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This Volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its

historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to
conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term
"policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within
already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices
which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its
surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists
in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of
parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions
to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their
relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The
essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections
Stefan Hölscher (Hg.),
between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the
Gerald Siegmund
perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and

Dance, Politics &

This Volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its
historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to
conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term
288 Seiten, Broschur
"policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within
already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices
which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its
surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists
in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of
parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions
to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their
relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The
essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections
between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the
perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and

With contributions by Saša Asenti?, Ulas Aktas, Gabriele Brandstetter,

Ramsay Burt, Bojana Cveji?, Mark Franko, Gabriele Klein, Bojana Kunst,
André Lepecki, Isabell Lorey, Oliver Marchart, Brian Massumi/Erin
Manning, Randy Martin, Gerald Raunig, Petra Sabisch, and Ana

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Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity

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Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity

Thinking Resistances
Current Perspectives on Politics and Communities in the Arts, Vol. 1

Edited by
Gerald Siegmund und Stefan Hölscher


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1. Auflage / First Edition
ISBN 978-3-03734-218-3
© diaphanes, Zürich-Berlin 2013
Alle Rechte vorbehalten / All rights reserved

Umschlag / Cover design: Eike Dingler

Satz und Layout / Prepress: 2edit, Zürich
Druck / Printing: Pustet, Regensburg

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Table of Contents

Gerald Siegmund and Stefan Hölscher

Introduction 7

1. The Politics of Enjoyment

André Lepecki
From Partaking to Initiating:
Leadingfollowing as Dance’s (a-personal) Political Singularity 21

Oliver Marchart
Dancing Politics. Political Reflections on Choreography,
Dance and Protest 39

Bojana Kunst
Working Out Contemporaneity. Dance and Post-Fordism 59

2. The Politics of Sense

Erin Manning and Brian Massumi

Coming Alive in a World of Texture
For Neurodiversity 73

Ulas Aktas
Civilisational Wilderness or Civilderness and
Cultural Immune Systems 97

Petra Sabisch
Choreographing Participatory Relations
Contamination and Articulation 109

3. The Politics of Modernism

Bojana Cvejić
On the Choreographic Production of Problems 135

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Gabriele Brandstetter
Heteropolitics of Contemporary Dance
Xavier Le Roy’s “Le Sacre du printemps” 145

Mark Franko
Myth, Nationalism and Embodiment in “American Document” 163

4. The Politics of the Social

Ana Vujanović
Notes on the Politicality of Contemporary Dance 181

Gabriele Klein
The (Micro-)Politics of Social Choreography
Aesthetic and Political Strategies of Protest and Participation 193

Randy Martin
Mobilizing Dance
Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative 209

Saša Asentić and Ana Vujanović

“My Private Bio-Politics”
A Performance on the Paper Floor (Third phase) 227

5. The Politics of Community

Ramsay Burt
The Biopolitics of Modernist Dance and Suffragette Protest 247

Isabell Lorey
Politics of Immunization and the Precarious Life 259

Gerald Raunig
After Community: Condividuality 271

Notes on Contributors 281

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Gerald Siegmund and Stefan Hölscher


Moving Times

The past ten years have seen a re-emergence of the need to think about
and conceptualise the arts in general and dance in particular in terms
of the political. Developments in globalised neo-liberal capitalism and
the changes it has produced in the social fabric seem to beg for a state-
ment of some kind from the artistic field. What is more, these changes
increasingly affect the production and reception of dance itself, thereby
laying bare the ideological underpinnings of its claim for artistic free-
dom and criticality. If Eve Chiapello is right in claiming that the current
state of capitalist development has appropriated the artists’ critique of
the social and its demand for freedom into its very own mode of opera-
tion, the arts are indeed in a conundrum.1 The freedom of the artists,
so it seems, equals the freedom of globalised capital and its modes of
production. It comes as no surprise, then, that re-thinking the relation
of dance and politics is high on the agenda of dance practitioners and
scholars alike. Recent developments in the world economy suggest
that Michel Foucault’s concept of “governmentality” of self, other and
society, which he developed in his lecture series between 1977 and
1979, is more pertinent than ever.2 Whereas the citizens of the one
world have involuntarily become bearers and shares of incalculable
risks, the frontiers to the other world are protected more and more
rigorously. Examples of this are the overflowing refugee camps on the
southern Italian coast as well as international airports that resemble
high security prisons searching and registering masses of bodies in
their microstructures with new technological devices. While one part
of the world population deterritorialises itself voluntarily, the other
part is forcibly prevented from entering this space, which is defined by
its increasing mobility, acceleration, and high speed communication
highways. Neoliberal dispositifs of power are linked with technologies
to secure and enclose territories, discourses and bodies whose general

1 Eve Chiapello, “Evolution und Kooption. Die ‘Künstlerkritik’ und der normative
Wandel”, in Christoph Menke und Juliane Rebentisch, eds., Kreation und Depression.
Freiheit im gegenwärtigen Kapitalismus (Berlin: Kadmos, 2010), pp. 38–51.
2 Michel Foucault, Sicherheit, Territorium, Bevölkerung. Geschichte der Gouver­
nementalität I (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 2006); Michel Foucault, Die Geburt der
Biopolitik. Geschichte der Gouvernementalität II (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 2006).

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health is cared for while they are being deprived of a possible shared
way of life.
These developments have a double relation to the field of dance.
Firstly, they rely on the individual body and its ability to move as their
basic unit of operation. Secondly, they are concerned with distributing
these bodies in space, therefore choreographing their movements
according to the necessities of the global economy. Dance and its
artistic communities have indeed become a model for neo-liberal
flexibility and self-exploitation. Given these circumstances, how can
we think about the relation between dance and politics today without
repeating neo-liberal demands and constraints? This volume focuses
on recent developments in contemporary dance and the production of
new spaces for collaboration and exchange. In how far do they help
to reformulate what could be called the “becoming immanent of the

The Body as Supplement

Already in one of the earliest texts on the art of dancing, which is at

the same time the foundational text of the concept of choreography,
the connection between dance and politics is clearly spelled out. In
the Italian courts of the Renaissance the art of dancing, next to fencing
and horse riding, was employed to establish social relations between
courtiers. As Thoinot Arbeau emphasised in his book Orchésography,
mastering the art of dancing was particularly useful in bringing the
sexes together. “[P]our complaire aux damoiselles” one must learn to
dance, since dances are practiced to ensure that the lovers are healthy
and in control of their limbs. While dancing one can ascertain if one
likes each other’s odour, if the partner has bad breath or indeed smells
like a piece of rotten meat. Capriol, Arbeau’s pupil, who wants to
learn how to dance, is indeed worried that he might remain an animal
without the aid of dancing. He has to learn how to dance lest he be
accused “of having a cowardly pig’s heart and the head of an ass”.
Dance is therefore absolutely essential for ordering society, “pour bien
ordonner vne societé”.4

3 See Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, transl. Brian Massumi
(New York: Continuum, 2004).
4 Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie, Réimpression précédée d’une Notice sûr les
Danses du XVIe siècle par Laure Fonta, reprint of the edition Paris 1888 (Bologna:
Bibliotheca Musica Bononiensis, 1981).

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Whereas warfare, dance’s notorious partner in the eternal duet of
order and chaos, was to defend and to safeguard the order of the state
towards its exterior enemies, dancing was designed to establish and
keep an inner order by forging alliances and safeguarding the order by
its playful work towards reproduction. By matching steps and musi-
cal notes order was created that bound body, movement, and music
together by means of proportion (misura). While dancing a symbolic
game of give and take, pursuit, bashful refusals, and acceptance could
be played out that negotiated social hierarchies. Dancing performa-
tively created the order it enacted. Courtly values of elegance, lightness
(airea) mutual exchange, respect, and status implied a certain watch-
fulness of one’s own place and position in relation to one’s fellow
courtiers. It contained self-reflection in between the surge of steps. It
included pauses to consider how to continue and which direction to
take (posa). What dancing did then, was to allow for an active and cau-
tionary “self-fashioning” of what the body can do, to borrow Stephen
Greenblatt’s famous term,5 that was based on the separation of the
eligible from the non-eligible, the human from the non-human. It was
a (self-)disciplinary task that was embedded in the representational
power of the sovereign to give and take life. The common measure
or “tact”, in both senses of the word, between body, movement and
music as an ordering system aimed at the creation of the body of a
courtier which would remain incomplete or unaccomplished without
it. By acting and moving in proportionate relations the body shed its
natural dispositions and appetites, which in the guise of metaphors
from the animals realm constitute the horizon of Arbeau’s humanising
and humanistic endeavour.
In 1661/2, when Louis XIV founded the Royal Academy of Dancing,
a similar logic of creating order was in place. In breaking the power of
the Fronde and the gentry and centralising power at the court in Paris
dance, was used as an instrument to symbolically enact and represent
this power. Dance education was unified under royal patronage, the
power of the violin players and the guilds reduced, giving the king
full reign over a range of bodies that could serve as soldiers in war
and as dances for courtly ballet productions that increasingly required
advanced technical skills. Beauchamp/Feuillet notation was developed
to import dances from other European countries and regions in order
to write them down and then export them again as French dances. The
choreography, as Jean-Noel Laurenti has pointed out, was written in
advance by scribes, before anybody could practically temper with it on

5 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning. From More to Shakespeare

(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

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the dance floor.6 And yet, as with Arbeau’s measure and tact, the body
is not just an executive of royal power. The complex semiotic system of
notation articulates a dead body devoid of life that, like Frankenstein’s
monster, has to be brought to life by contact with a material body, its
breath and rhythm. The total technobody, as Mark Franko calls the
body of the Baroque dancer,7 is an active agent in negotiating signs and
physical demands in order to produce a body that is neither the body
of the individual dancer (which is de-corporalised in the process) nor
the body of the king (which would be a sacrilege and an impossibility).
The body, here, follows the logic of a supplement. The king’s transcen-
dent body is the supplement to God’s will, and the dancer’s body is
the supplement to the king’s imaginary incorporation of the social and
political. A third body emerges in dancing, a body that re-corporalises
and enacts the ideal of the state as a constructed physical reality.
As Claude Lefort points out, since the French Revolution society
has vacated the place of the monarch whose body guaranteed the
stable link between power, knowledge and legislation.8 As citizens of
a democracy, we live in disembodied times. This fundamental lack of
a foundational body that is transcendent and immanent at the same
time representing the unity of the nation state and its members, lies at
the centre of the continuous need of society to found itself. Without
foundations in the king’s body, this foundational act is forever contin-
gent. It arises from a fundamental absence that Oliver Marchart links to
Heidegger’s idea of ontological difference.9 As such, it is a radical dif-
ference excluded and precluded from the general play of differences, as
it marks the condition of its possibility. In other words, the ontological
difference with its absence of foundations gives rise to the possibility
of and the need for antagonism, change, and the possibility to always
found anew.
The question, then, remains: what happens to the bodies in a time
when they themselves are sovereigns of the democratic state whose life
depends upon their lives? Which role, then, does the dancing body play

6 Jean-Noel Laurenti, “Feuillet’s Thinking”, in Traces of the Dance, ed. Laurence

Louppe (Paris: Editions Dis Voir, 1994), pp. 81–108.
7 Mark Franko, Dance as Text. Ideologies of the Baroque Body (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1993).
8 See Daniel Gaus, “Demokratie zwischen Konflikt und Konsens. Zur politischen
Philosophie Claude Leforts”, in O. Flügel, R. Heil and A. Hetzel, eds., Die Rückkehr
des Politischen. Demokratietheorien heute (Darmstadt: WBG, 2004), pp. 65–86; Oliver
Marchart, “Claude Lefort: Demokratie und die doppelte Teilung der Gesellschaft”,
in Ulrich Böckling und Robert Feustel, eds., Das Politische Denken. Zeitgenössische
Positionen (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2010), pp. 19–32.
9 Oliver Marchart, Die politische Differenz (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010).


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in our disembodied and decentred democracies? One possible answer
lies in the notion of “the politics of dance” as we have described it
above. Since there are no more stable embodied relations between
power, legislation and knowledge, choreography and its bodies
become a testing ground for relations of the body to the empty and
incomplete symbolic orders of societies. Dance becomes a rehearsal
space for possible ways of entering the social and of positioning oneself
with others within its sphere.10 The dancing body, accepting the gap
between itself and the social order, becomes a supplement to difference
that fills its absence with pleasure and jouissance forever in excess
of its reasonable demands, thereby critically exposing and sometimes
even mocking its current state of legislation while engaging with it.11

Thinking Dance and Politics

Relating dance, or theatre, to politics can take various forms. The

distinction between “political dance” and “the politics of dance” has
become commonplace when trying to reflect upon art’s engagement
with the political.12 Whereas the term “political dance” like “politi-
cal theatre” came to denote dance or theatre pieces that speak about
political issues on the level of content, “political dance”, on the other
hand, deals with issues of form. “Political Dance” displays dance’s
self-reflexive potential to expose and talk about its own mechanisms
and means of production and reception, thereby subverting tradi-
tional ways of how dance is produced and received. Understood in
this way, “political dance” questions its relations to the institutions
inside which it takes place. It reflects upon the roles of choreographers,
dancers, bodies, audiences, and producers and their traditionally hier-
archical relationship towards each other. In short, “political dance” is
engaged in the practice of criticality. Next to this general distinction,
Mark Franko has pointed out that under certain social and cultural

10 Andrew Hewitt suggests this with his idea of “social choreography”; Andrew
Hewitt, Social Choreography. Ideology as Performance in Dance and in Everyday
Movement (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005).
11 See Gerald Siegmund, Abwesenheit (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2006); Gerald Sieg­
mund, “Impossible Choreographies: Negotiating Choreography, Letter and Law in
William Forsythe’s Pieces”, in Susanne Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, eds., New
German Dance Studies (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012), Chapter 13;
see also Oliver Marchart’s and Bojana Kunst’s essays in this volume.
12 See for instance: Hans-Thies Lehmann, Politisches Schreiben (Berlin: Theater der
Zeit, 2002), pp. 11–21.


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­conditions dance and politics may be “conjunctural”.13 The parallelism
of dance and cultural movements in the fist half of the 20th century,
for instance, saw an either willing or unwilling entering of dance of
the field of politics. With various modes and degrees of accommodat-
ing their artistic practice and vision within the field of power, dance
practitioners joined forces with movements of cultural change. The
initial alignment of dancers and choreographers like Rudolf von Laban
with the Nazi rulers in Germany, the conjunction of dance with the US
Labour Movement in the 1930s, the use of dance companies as cultural
and political ambassadors from both the United States and the Soviet
Union during the Cold War, or the conjunction of dance and poli-
tics during the 1960s and 1970s articulating and practicing a politics
of change during the social upheavals that gave rise to emancipatory
movements, may serve as examples of this.
This volume is primarily concerned with “the politics of dance” as a
form of continuous questioning. It is dedicated to the question of how
dance, both in its modernist and in its contemporary manifestations,
is intricately linked to conceptualisations of the political. Whereas
in this context the term policy means the reproduction of hegemonic
power relations within already existing institutional structures, politics
refers to those practices which question the space of policy as such
by inscribing into its surface that which has had no place before.
Thinking politics as the absent political within policy is therefore
by definition linked to the idea of choreography in the truest sense
of the word: the art of choreography consists of distributing bodies
and their relations in space. It is a distribution of parts that within
the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions to specific
bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their relations, a
deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. This ongoing
distribution and reconfiguration of the sensible, as Jacques Rancière
calls it,14 which structures the body and its parts and links it to the
existing symbolic order of any given society, can be considered a site
of resistance allowing for interventions into hegemonic discourses,
traditional distributions and fixed framings.

In the public space of theatre, whose characteristic feature is the sep-

aration of stage and auditorium, dance may not only distribute its

13 Mark Franko, “Dance and the Political: States of Exception”, in Susanne Franco
and Marina Nordera, eds., Dance Discourses. Keywords in Dance Research (London
and New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 12.
14 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible (Lon­
don and New York: Continuum, 2006).


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­ odies, but also split and share that which is separated and yet united:
the community of bodies as well as their words and the objects they
produce. The renaissance of the political goes hand in hand with the
rebirth of a long discredited term: community. In the German political
tradition of Ferdinand Tönnies, community  – in a Romantic under-
standing – is opposed to society. In the works of Jean-Luc Nancy and
Roberto Esposito, however, community no longer appears as a simple
opposition to political developments, but rather as a contested space
of discussion that risks community in a dialogue between equals.
Although contemporary developments in world politics and world
economy establish increasingly asymmetrical relationships between
people, it is the idea of a community of equals that may subvert these

Dance, Politics, and Co-immunity

Viewed against this background, how did dance and how does dance,
then, do politics with the body in the public (theatrical) space? How
can it become political? Contributors to the symposium and the
present book that documents its proceedings were invited to think
about the multiple connections between politics, community, dance,
and globalisation from the perspective of Dance and Theatre Studies,
History, Philosophy, and Sociology.

1. The Politics of Enjoyment

The essays grouped together under this heading locate the critical
and political dimension of dance in the kind of excessive enjoyment it
produces, thus bestowing agency on its subjects.
In his contribution to this volume, André Lepecki identifies Jacques
Rancière’s notion of subjectivity implicit in his concept of the aesthetic
regime as one of disinterested perception. Although Lepecki appreci-
ates the idea of a suspension of the hierarchy between form and matter,
and, respectively, activity and passivity and the free play of faculties as
it was conceived by Kant and Schiller, he underlines that there is a cer-
tain danger inherent in notions of aesthetics derived from German Ide-
alism. The free play of perception may work perfectly well within the
fluid patterns and flexible powers of what Gilles Deleuze once named
the society of control. According to Lepecki, what is needed today is a
new concept of initiation derived from the notion of energeia.


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Rather than looking for the political potential in various dance prac-
tices, Oliver Marchart raises the question of what could be dance-like in
political acting. Taking his cue from Emma Goldman’s famous slogan,
“If I cannot dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” Marchart
provocatively asks: “what if political acting had the same structure as
dance?” The dance-like dimension of political acting draws on dance
as an excessive supplement that provides physical enjoyment or jouis­
sance in order to bridge the inevitable gap between the cause of the
protest and the object attained. Supplementing Hannah Arendt’s claim
for public happiness through communal dance-like political action,
Marchart proposes four categories that distinguish ordinary dancing in
the street form political dancing. To dance politically is not just fun,
but also goal oriented and tactical; it is communal, antagonistic and
blocks the ordinary flow of events.
Bojana Kunst claims the centrality of movement for both modernist
and Post-Fordist production modes. Whereas in the first half of the
20th century movement was mechanically cut up only to be interiorised
again for workers to enable them to function smoothly, Post-Fordism
relies on the radical exteriorization of movement. Thus, the relational
aspect of movement, its rhythms, accelerated speed and rate of
connectedness to others and the world is manipulated by the control
society we live in. Therefore, Kunst pleads for new forms of resistance
to the temporal capture of our movements which draw on movement’s
ability to disturb the smooth flow of events. Simply because the body
can walk and dance, it can find perverse pleasure in distancing itself
from and mocking any kind institutional mechanism and allows us to
find new embodied ways of moving together.

2. The Politics of Sense

Following form the idea of enjoyment, the authors in this section focus
on dance as a non-textual activity. They advocate dance as a field of
sensorial intensities that provides ways of non-hierarchical relations
between dancers and dancers and audiences alike. What kind of politi-
cal potential does the autist have in rejecting language as a system of
ordering thoughts and experiences? Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
turn to texts written by autists describing their perception of the world
dealing with their expressive striving. Immersed in an open and non-
hierarchical field of sensual stimuli, Manning and Massumi thus turn
the autist into the perfect aesthetic subject. Theorising this experience
with Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy of prehension on
the one hand and pragmatism on the other, they develop their own


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version of a philosophy of pure feeling that goes against normative
orderings of the world.
From an anthropologist’s perspective, Ulas Aktas diagnoses a radical
transformation in our contemporary cultural formation. He asks how
contemporary shifts in our cultural axes correspond to ways the human
body is confronted with the power of the inorganic and technological.
With Foucault and Deleuze, he proposes an aesthetics of existence
which is primarily about developing intensities that allow for a new
grounding of the human within the cultural sphere. The arts in general
and dance in particular play an important role in the development
of this new cultural screen that shields us from the consequences of
culture’s disintegration.
Petra Sabisch, following Gilles Deleuze’s early reading of David
Hume’s empiricist philosophy, suggests that in dance relations are
always external to their terms. In doing so, she develops a non-textual
model of choreography, challenging many current assumptions regard-
ing the body and the question of what it can do. According to Sabisch,
contamination and articulation are the two modes in which choreog-
raphy operates, allowing for a transformation of the senses that ulti-
mately goes beyond representation and, in relating to the audience,
asks for participation in the sensible with which it experiments.

3. The Politics of Modernism

In a similar manner Bojana Cvejić questions the historical burden of

aesthetics in the field of choreography. She suggests that we should free
ourselves from its tradition of normativity that establishes a catalogue
of criteria for the art of making dances or a poetics in the traditional
sense. Her thoughts on transcendental problems in Deleuze and his
method of dramatization lead Cvejić to the conclusion that there is a
lot more to be experienced in contemporary dance pieces if we move
away from the recognition of already existing patterns to the sensation
of the yet unknown.
In contrast to this, Gabriele Brandstetter stages an encounter between
the critical thought of the Frankfurt School and its powerful notion of
an aesthetics and recent choreography in her essay. In her analysis
of Xavier Le Roy’s Le Sacre du Printemps she argues that Theodor
W. Adorno’s aesthetic theory from the 1960s might still be valid for
contemporary art practices. By taking a closer look at the figure of
the victim in the original ballet by Nijinski and relating it to Xavier Le
Roy’s specific relationship to the audience in his piece, she ­rehabilitates
Adorno’s notion of art and negativity as a potential site for resistance.


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Primarily taking its cues from the content of performance, Mark
Franko engages in a detailed investigation of Martha Graham’s Ameri­
can Document from 1938. While appealing to patriotic feelings by mak-
ing use of the same kind of embodied symbolisms as fascism, Franko
reads Graham’s piece as an antifascist statement. American Document
defies the mythical re-living of a past reality typical of fascist thought
because of its movement qualities. As opposed to proto-fascist prac-
tices which know where the body will go, Barbara Morgan’s photo-
graphs highlight the productive inability of Graham’s movements to
envision a pre-determined future. The medium of photography thus
isolates a moment in time whose horizon, complicit with liberal capi-
talist ideology, remains open.

4. The Politics of the Social

Contrary to modernist belief, the essays in this section share the view
that choreography is not confined to a separate aesthetic sphere.
Rather, it moves towards what Andrew Hewitt calls social choreog-
raphy. Arguing with modernist assumptions of the political nature of
theatre and dance, Ana Vujanović identifies three modes of relating art
to politics: engaged performance, the politicality of the performance
medium, and the political nature of modes of production. Since in
neo-liberal economies, performance and politics are ambiguously close
to each other in sharing the same visibility and, as a consequence, a
certain self-exhaustion in the public sphere, she argues for a specific
politicality of contemporary dance, which intervenes in specific con-
texts in order to transform them. Seen from this perspective the how of
political acting becomes at least as much – if not even more – pertinent
than the what.
Gabriele Klein deals with the question of participation both in public
space and in art institutions. As for Ana Vujanović, for her aesthetic
strategies and sensibilities are no longer confined to a separate artistic
sphere, but infiltrate the public sphere and our everyday lives on a
profound level. Understood as social choreographies, choreographies
do not exist separately from social norms and structures. Instead, they
perform them. The social choreographies and their micro-politics are
then located in the various tensions between protest and participa-
tion and hint toward a globalized world in motion. Klein distinguishes
between three modes of audience participation that she calls implicit,
taking part and involvement.
Randy Martin is interested in the logic of what he calls the social
derivative, especially in times of an obvious (financial) crisis. Rather


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than seeing crisis only in negative terms, he tries to focus on its positive
implications and productive consequences, especially for strategies of
self-organization of bodies in choreography. In Martin’s scenario, after
the crash of a sovereign body politic, the surplus of derivative activities
of bodies and their dances cannot be managed and contained anymore.
They develop a constituent power and a weight of their own.
Saša Asentić and Ana Vujanović reflect on their piece My Private Bio-
politics, which was shown as part of the conference in November 2010.
Their text consists of a series of combined email exchanges and other
material that, at first, were produced back-stage in the course of the
preparation for the piece. The text highlights the complex overlapping
of different kinds of politics, between expectations of how to enter the
Western dance market from the East, and, from the perspective of the
West, the right to define what a contemporary dance piece looks like.
It sheds light on the actors who constitute the field in which they are
simultaneously embedded: choreography.

5. The Politics of Community

Departing from the notion of social protest that underlies almost all of
the above essays, this section explicitly deals with the notion of com-
munity and questions its status in the current political debate. In his
text on early 20th-century protest, Ramsay Burt juxtaposes the political
protest of the Suffragette movement and Nijinsky’s choreography of Le
Sacre du Printemps. Drawing on the tropes of bio­politics and immu-
nity in Roberto Esposito’s work, Burt identifies both Emily Howard
Davison’s death and Maria Plitz’s dancing of the role of the Chosen
One as sacrifices for a change in and a re-definition of the national
community. He proposes that both the modernist ballet and political
activism are expressions of feminist protest: a physical protest against
the state’s invasion of its people’s private spheres and the increasing
biopolitical power over their life.
Taking an oppositional standpoint, Isabell Lorey holds that under
the current rule of governance communitarian protest und resistance
tend to be immunized by the ruling powers. She distinguishes between
three figures into which the politics of immunization can be divided.
Whereas the first two figures of the immune – juridical immunity and
biopolitical immunization  – both confirm domination, Lorey’s third
category, constituent immunization, is a subversive figure. To develop
this, she turns to the motif of exodus in a story told by Titus Livius
about the conflict between the plebeians and the patricians in Ancient
Rome and its adaptation in contemporary postoperaist discourses.


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Thus, new forms of protest turn away from the politics of identity and
representation in order to invent new political forms and practices
focusing on the common rather than on community.
Gerald Raunig, finally, takes a closer look at the revival of the idea of
community in the field of art during the last decade. He suggests that
the focus on community, because of its historical implications, is the
wrong solution to our contemporary problems because it is too much
based on notions of the individual as that which cannot be divided. He
contrasts this traditional idea with what he names “condividuality” as
an assemblage of infinitely dividable “dividuals”.
The international symposium “Dance, Politics, and Co-Immunity”
took place from the 11th to the 14th of November 2010 at Justus Lie-
big University in Gießen (Germany). It would not have been possible
without the help of a lot of people, especially the wonderful students
of the Institut für Angewandte Theaterwissenschaft at the University
of Gießen. We would especially like to thank Sebastian Schulz for
making sure that everybody’s voice could be heard loud and clearly
during the lectures, Mark Schröppel and Philipp Karau for recording
it all on camera, Georg Döcker and Anna Schewelew for their immea-
surable energy and patience with all the detailed preparations and
their endless capacity to help while the conference was on its way. As
an integral part of the conference, artistic statements by dance mak-
ers dealing explicitly with the issues raised in the present book were
invited. We would like to thank Sebastian Schulz and Verena Billinger,
Xavier le Roy, and Saša Asentić for presenting their pieces under less
than ideal circumstances. Without the technical support and exper-
tise of Bernhard Greif, Katharina Stephan and Alice Ferl these produc-
tions could not have been shown on the small stage of the Probebühne
of the Institute. The students of the MA programme “Choreography
and Performance”, Billy Bultheel, Franziska Aigner, Uri Turkenich,
Tessa Theisen, Rose Beermann, Iva Sveshtarova, and Antje Velsinger
organised a salon for exchange, discussions, and dancing. The confer-
ence was sponsored by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and
Hessische Theaterakademie (HTA). We would also like to thank the
Kulturamt of the city of Gießen for supporting the performances pre-
sented during the conference. Last but not least: Thanks to the organiz-
ers of the joint conference Thinking-Resisting-Reading the Political. Our
gatherings took place in parallel events, yet they developed out of a
close and productive exchange of thoughts within a project commonly
elaborated between the initiators of Communications: Dance, Politics,
and Co-Immunity and Anneka Esch-van Kan, Stephan Packard, and
Philipp Schulte.


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1. The Politics of Enjoyment

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André Lepecki

From Partaking to Initiating: Leadingfollowing as Dance’s

(a-personal) Political Singularity

Consensus about dissensus

Over the past few years we have witnessed a convergence in critical

discourse and political philosophy towards a generalized agreement
on the relationship between art and the political. The terms of this
agreement were clearly expressed not too long ago by Giorgio Agamben
during a Conference not unlike this one, also dedicated to the relations
between philosophy, politics, and art.1 Concluding his intervention,
Agamben stated:

Art is not an aesthetic human activity that can also, in certain circumstances,
acquire a political significance. Art is inherently political, because it is an
activity that renders inactive and contemplates the senses and habitual
gestures of human beings and in so doing opens them up to a new potential
use. This is why art resembles politics and philosophy almost to the point
of becoming one with them. What poetry does for the power to speak and
art does for the senses, politics and philosophy must do for the biological,
economic, and social activities – they show what the human body can do and
open it up to a new potential use.2

It is clear how Agamben’s articulation of what in art would be “inher-

ently political” converges strongly with some of Jacques Rancière’s
propositions on the link between art and politics, particularly under his
concept of the aesthetic regime of art. To summarize an increasingly
familiar notion, the aesthetic regime is characterized by a particular
distribution of the sensible defined around “the idea of a sensible ele-
ment torn from the sensible, of a dissensual sensible element.”3 Within

1 Consider Joseph Backstein, Daniel Birnbaum, Sven-Olov Wallenstein, eds.,

Thinking Worlds – The Moscow Conference on Philosophy, Politics, and Art (Berlin:
Sternberg Press, 2008).
2 Giorgio Agamben, “Art, Inactivity, Politics,” ibid., p. 204.
3 The complete citation reads as follows: “The idea of a sensible element torn from
the sensible, of a dissensual sensible element, is a specific characteristic of the think-
ing implied by the modern regime of art, which I have proposed to call the ‘aesthetic
regime of art.’ What in fact characterizes this regime is the idea of a specific form of
sensory experience, disconnected from the normal forms of sensory experience.” –


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the aesthetic regime, this element is what binds artistic acts with
political acts. Indeed, as Rancière writes, “if there exists a connection
between art and politics, it should be cast in terms of dissensus, the
very kernel of the aesthetic regime.”4 In the aesthetic regime, art is con-
nected to politics because both work to disconnect sensory experience
away “from the normal forms of sensory experience”5, and because
both understand the body as a reservoir of dissensual somatic-political
capacities. To sensorially dissent is precisely to put those capacities
towards new potential use (to invoke now Agamben’s terminology).
Differently from Agamben however, Rancière’s identification and
differentiation of several regimes of the arts (which do not necessarily
correspond to any strict historical sequence, but may overlap within
a certain epoch, and sometimes within one single work6) indicates
that not every artistic practice is necessarily (or ontologically) political.
The generic way Agamben states the connection, or ontological
community, between art, philosophy, and the political, appears in
Rancière under the sign of particular singularities, of sudden breaks
and cleavages brought about by dissensual artistic and political
manifestations (demonstrations). Only under the specific conditions
set up by the aesthetic regime are artistic manifestations able to be truly
dissensual – i.e., are able to open up a fissure in the habitual weaving
of the fabric of the sensible. In the aesthetic regime, art and the political
gain symmetry: the political (as opposed to the business of making
politics) is simultaneously traversed and constituted by the aesthetic
(understood now as a disruptive-inventive-cleaving force). This is
why Rancière can write that “there is thus an ‘aesthetics’ at the core
of politics that has nothing to do with Benjamin’s discussion of the
‘aestheticization of politics’ specific to the ‘age of the masses’.”7 In the
age of the aesthetic regime of the arts, of which our contemporaneity is
a part, art partakes of the political and the political partakes of art only
when both produce ontological-perceptual disjunctions and eccentric
movements in language and sensation; only when both promote a
disbanding of circulatory imperatives tied to linguistic and behavioral
clichés for subjectivity.

Jacques Rancière, Dissensus. On Politics and Aesthetics, transl. S. Corcoran (London,

New York: Continuum), p. 173.
4 Ibid., p. 140 (emphasis added).
5 Ibid., p. 173.
6 “At a given point in time, several regimes coexist and intermingle in the works
themselves.” –Rancière, Politics of Aesthetics, p. 50.
7 Ibid., p. 13.


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It is telling how the particularities of the aesthetic regime of art neces-
sitate the activation of a semantic field in all resonant with performance
and dance – revealing the kinetic unconscious underlying contempo-
rary political-philosophical thought. Indeed, at a temporal level, and
using a phrasing that is quite familiar to dance and performance stud-
ies, Rancière identifies politics as being both ephemeral and precarious:
“politics is always of the moment and its subjects always precarious.
A political difference is always on the shore of its own disappearance.”8
While, at a corporeal level, Rancière tells us how politics’ main task is
to invent bodies and to explore new capacities to perceive, to express,
and to move: “politics […] reframes the given by inventing new ways
of making sense of the sensible, new configurations between the vis-
ible and the invisible, and between the audible and the inaudible …
in short new bodily capacities.”9 In both senses, politics emerges as
choreographic activity. A choreographic understanding of politics (tied
to corporeal potentiality and to ephemeral temporality) echoes notions
in political philosophy that have always linked politics to performance,
and particularly politics to dance. For instance, to Hannah Arendt’s
remarks on how “politics is a techné, belongs among the arts, and can
be likened to such activities as healing or navigation, where, as in the
performance of the dancer or play-actor, the ‘product’ is identical with
the performance act itself.”10 While Rancière’s observation that both
art and politics share the choreopolitical ability to create new bodily
capacities reunites his thoughts with Agamben’s formulations on art
and the political cited above.
Thus, and despite important differences, it is possible to identify the
terms of a discursive agreement on how art and the political establish
between (and with) each other a common. On this common, a question
presses itself forth: if a critical-philosophical consensus is being estab-
lished on some co-constitutive relations between art and the political,

8 Rancière, Dissensus, p. 39.

9 Ibid., p. 139.
10 Hannah Arendt, The human condition (Chicago: University of Chicag‑Press, 1998),
p. 207. Arendt’s argument is, of course, that such vision of the full actuality of poli-
tics, one where its means coincide with its ends, and where no product is produced
except sheer actuality, endures a degradation in Western political thought, epito-
mized (according to her) by Adam Smith. Paolo Virno reminds us also of Marx’s
own discomfort with those professions where all is left to the worker is to belabor
ephemeral acts that produce nothing other than themselves. The recovery of the
“sheer actuality” of performance and its precariousness and ephemerality as the
potency of a reconstituted political modality (traversed by the aesthetic), proposed
by Rancière, Agamben, Virno and others, would reconstitute also a political ontology
deeply tied into performance’s and dance’s political-ontological potencies.


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couldn’t we say that such a consensus risks deflating precisely that
which defines and fuels the political in the aesthetic regime of art?
And couldn’t we say that this consensus risks deflating and defusing
other forces traversing the political kinetic, i.e.: the differential, evental
and eccentric affects and effects produced by dissensus? In agreeing to
affirm and to re-affirm once and again in art biennials, conferences,
symposia, academic journals, or artistic manifestoes that art is political
because it creates a rupture on the fabric of the sensible, of the per-
ceptible, of the sayable, and because it dissensually refuses to reify the
quotidian as the normal, how to prevent the formation of a paralyzing
theoretical homogeneity, one that not only would blind us critically, but
pin us down theoretically, politically and artistically?
The problem is how such a liberating thought, such a liberating
conceptual proposition, such a liberating view on the inventive and
co-constitutive relations between aesthetics and politics may all of a
sudden, and despite very good intentions, place us under arrest. Stuck
in a place that consensus has built. Even if being stuck happens under
the guise of incredible performances of agilities and fantastic kinetic
feats – for to be stuck, to be pinned down, to be consensual, does not
mean necessarily to be immobile or to appear immobile. Actually there
is a whole kinetics of consensuality predicated on all sorts of agitations.
The kind of fixity implied in (and produced by) consensus is very
different from active dwelling in intense stillness, or from engaging in
still-acts. As Rancière clarifies, to be in consensus is simply this: to fit
the mold and to stay fit. It is to circulate not only because one is told
(by whichever authority, real or fantastical) to circulate; but also to
do so always in the proper mode of circulation (for instance in policed
circulation where the kinetic command is to “Move along! There is
nothing to see here!” as the cop says11). Consensual kineticism means
to move so not to stir things up; it means to create apparent critical
and political agitation but only as long as, in the end, agitation keeps
everything stale and in place. Properly. And fit.

Politics of Perception and the notion of disengagement

I am invoking this generalized state of critical consensus around the

political-aesthetic need for dissensus moved not at all by a desire to
be polemical on these issues, and even less by a desire to engage with

11 See Rancière, Dissensus, p. 37. As he states there: “The police is that which says
that here, on this street, there is nothing to see, and so nothing to do but to move


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a semantic play around these two words. I am bringing this issue for
our consideration moved by a recent encounter with a (relatively) old
text (relatively) familiar to dance scholars. A text moreover, where its
author explicitly proposes (in his analysis of a very specific choreo-
graphic body of work in all exemplary of the aesthetic regime of art)
his own notion of a “politics of perception.” However, in this relatively
old, relatively well-known text, we find that the “politics of perception”
being proposed (despite its Rancièrian and Agambian tones avant-la-
lettre), actually promotes a very disturbing conservatism. I am referring
to Roger Copeland’s essay “Merce Cunningham and the Politics of
Perception,” originally published in The New Republic, in 1979.12
In that text, Copeland’s explicit drive is to rescue politically Merce
Cunningham’s “abstract” choreographic work (and partially also John
Cage’s music).13 “Can we really extract a politics of perception from
Cunningham’s work?” asks the author. His answer: “I think so.”14
Interestingly, the question of the relation between dance and the politi-
cal is invoked by Copeland as being a matter of what we could only
call a partage du sensible (even if his essay was published years before
Rancière coined the expression). Copeland makes one single claim: “in
an environment designed to stimulate wholly artificial desires  – the
needs of a consumer society – we have no way of knowing that what
feels natural isn’t really the result of subliminal cultural conditioning.
[…] our most fundamental perceptual habits have been conditioned
by forces we neither recognize nor control.”15 Fueled by such diagno-
sis, Copeland proposes the practice of a “politics of perception”16 in
order to achieve what he calls “perceptual freedom.”17 Still according
to Copeland, Cunningham’s mode of freeing oneself from normative
perceptual conventions results directly from an “aesthetics of peace-
ful co-existence”18 between autonomous realms of sound, movement,

12 Roger Copeland, “Merce Cunningham and the Politics of Perception”, What is

Dance? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). The original source is Roger Cope-
land, “The Politics of Perception”, The New Republic, November 17, 1979, pp. 25–30.
The article had a call for it on the magazine’s cover, with the header Unnatural
13 Copeland repeats the exact same argument throughout most of his more recent
book Merce Cunningham: the modernization of dance (London, New York: Routledge,
2004). Copeland’s book was published before the English translations of Rancière’s
Aesthetics and Politics, or his more recent collection of essays Dissensus.
14 Ibid., p. 312.
15 Ibid., p. 311.
16 Ibid., p. 313.
17 Ibid., ibid.
18 Ibid., ibid.


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and set which are found throughout most of Cunningham’s oeuvre.
Copeland concludes in the following terms: “Cunningham was the first
choreographer to achieve (or even attempt to achieve) the aims of the
Russian Formalist Victor Shklovsky […] who wrote that art is the effort
to ‘remove the automatism of perception, to increase the difficulty and
length of perception’.”19
Copeland’s main thesis in his 1979 essay is retaken in his more recent
book, Merce Cunningham. The modernizing of modern dance (2004).
In it, Copeland introduces a new element in a model that otherwise
reminds us of Agamben’s notions of perceptual potentiality (as they
relate to the invention of new corporeal capacities) and of Rancière’s
partage du sensible (as political, aesthetic, perceptual and signifying
practices aimed at dissensus). Let me quote the passage that threw me
off into a spin, truly displaced my critical disposition, and precipitated
this paper. It is from the book’s “Introduction”:

One of my principle goals in writing this book is to reclaim the concept of

‘the political’ from those current denizens of the ‘cultural left’ who cava-
lierly dismiss the so-called detachment of artists like Cunningham and Cage
as socially irresponsible. […] Many of Cunningham’s inventions – the inde-
pendence of movement, sound and décor in his dances, the decentralizing of
stage space, the physical obstacles that sometimes impede or obscure one’s
view of the dancers -- serve the ultimate goal of increasing the spectator’s
perceptual freedom, of providing us with opportunities to choose when and
where to focus our visual and auditory attention. Cunningham and Cage
practice (quite consciously) a politics of perception.20

Let us keep in mind that Copeland’s analysis is driven by the desire

to “rescue” Cunningham politically from those “left wing denizens”
who accused the choreographer of “detachment.” Yet, Copeland con-
tinues in absolutely Rancièrian terms: “Cunningham’s works challenge
existing relations between seeing and hearing; and by stretching the
intervals between stimulus and response, they help us against the
many forms of (virtually) Pavlovian conditioning that play an increas-
ingly dominant role in our daily lives.”21 So, we are not only before
the identification of a dissensual partage du sensible but also before the
identification of a temporal politics of the lag in Cunningham’s mode
of challenging existing relations between seeing and hearing – similar
to the “break” or “cleavage” proposed by Rancière’s concept of dis-

19 Ibid., p. 214.
20 Ibid., p. 16.
21 Ibid., p. 17.


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sensus as the binding element between the aesthetic and the political
in the aesthetic regime.
To summarize my points so far, we find outlined in Copeland’s 1979
essay (and again in his 2004 book), all the conditions defining the aes-
thetic regime’s dissensual (political-artistic) dimension: 1) an aesthetic
object (Cunningham’s choreography) is seen as proposing a dissensual
severance between all elements that make up its plane of composi-
tion; 2) that severance and constitutive dissensus is what promotes
the spectator’s perceptual freedom; 3) perceptual freedom is described
as initiating the “practice of a politics of perception” when watching
Cunningham’s choreography; 4) such a politics of perception is then
aligned to a critical mode of choreographing temporality predicated on
the formation of lags or intervals or gaps in the fabric of the temporal;
and 5) all of these points coalesce around the hope that such a mode
of creating a choreo-politics of perception would offer the occasion
and the tools an audience would need to escape sensorial conditioning
(along with its concomitant conditioning of subjectivity).
I could not agree more with Copeland’s description of the Cunning-
ham-Cagean project. What disturbs me is Copeland’s conscription of
their project – away from what he called “those denizens of the cultural
left.” And what disturbs me even more is how Copeland describes this
whole “liberation” of the sensorial found in Cunningham as initiating
a desirable, and for Copeland indeed much needed, “politics of disen-
gagement.” Again, and for the last time, Copeland: ”In some contexts,
a politics of disengagement can perform a more radical function than
a politics that is more conventionally ‘engaged’.”22
An in-depth critique of Copeland’s ideology is not really the point
of this paper. I am invoking Copeland’s essay and book as stumbling
blocks on current discourses on the politics of perception and the poli-
tics of aesthetics. Stumbling blocks which have the merit to demon-
strate how notions of the political in art, once tied exclusively to effects
derived from dissensual sensorial redistribution, may lead us to certain
odd, undesirable, and politically problematic positions. For instance,
the one resulting from tying the notion of a politics of perception directly
with an ethics and kinetics of “dis-engagement.” Copeland’s analysis
does have the merit of at least uncovering the repressed material strati-
fied in the political unconscious of current theoretical considerations
on the relations between art and politics. His approach reminds us
that a politics of perception, a politics of the sensible, a politics of dis-
sensus could all still take place under the sign of a ­generalized, and

22 Ibid., p. 14.


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for me politically aberrant, dis-engaged participating passivity. Con-
fronted with the affirmation that an aesthetic operation of sensorial
re-alignment directly promotes a (political) rearticulation of the world
and of subjectivities, and yet defending that this rearticulation could be
reached through a disengaged, contemplating sensuousness, what is at
stake in Copeland’s formulation of the political work of the aesthetic is
the link between perceptual re-distribution and political engagement.
This is the missing link in Rancière’s or Agamben’s writings, yet one
that remains crucial for a political philosophy concerned with aesthet-
ics (or with contemporary art) and its relations to political action and
political transformation.
Copeland’s ideas on what would be a disengaged perceptual politics
has the merit of forcing a question: should we abide by his “politics of
disengagement”23 for the sake of “perceptual freedom,”24 particularly
when this freedom is offered to us by the spectacle of dancing bodies?
To answer this question, we must first define what exactly we mean
by engagement. We know that Rancière’s own term to describe his
understanding of the work of aesthetics – partage – is etymologically
linked to “partake”; and thus to participation, or methexis.25 Rancière
has noted how the link between partaking (of the sensible) and (politi-
cal) participation is essential to the aesthetic regime’s political ontol-
ogy  – because partaking, in that particular context, presupposes the
affirmation of the supplementary nature of the demos. But a problem
still remains – if a “politics of disengagement” (initiated by an artistic
dissensual proposition, like Cunningham’s desire for the isolation of
sensorial domains in his works) demonstrate that there could be some-
thing like a passive partaking, or a passive (sensorial) participation,
these kinds of passivity would seem to name the choreopolitical project
underpinning contemporary control societies. It is important to clarify
that the passivity I am referring to, constitutively linked to an aesthet-
ics and a politics of disengagement, has little to do with active forms of
intense dwelling, or of “still-acts” in dance (of which myself and others
such as Petra Sabisch, José Gil, Erin Manning, Adrian Heathfield have
written about in relation to the works of choreographers such as La
Ribot, Vera Mantero, Jérôme Bel, Eiko&Koma, Xavier Leroy, etc.). As

23 Ibid., p. 16.
24 Ibid., p. 14.
25 “I call ‘distribution of the sensible’ a generally implicit law that defines the forms
of partaking by first defining the modes of perception in which they are inscribed.
[…] This partition should be understood in the double sense of the word: on the
one hand, as that which separates and excludes; on the other, as that which allows
participation.” – Rancière, Dissensus, p. 36.


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I mentioned earlier, one can be politically passive while gesticulating
and moving around like a maniac; just as one can be fully engaged
while in the most absolute quietness. I take passivity here to signify
exactly a constitutive disengagement at the core of our contemporary
subjectivity, which has led to some dire descriptions of our current
political predicament  – from Luc Boltanski’s musings on the impos-
sibility for the left to currently consider, even remotely, any possibility
of revolutionary action,26 to Agamben’s even more depressing descrip-
tion of a generalized contemporary social passivity (or of a generalized
passive sociality) taking place under the most frenetic agitations and
dislocations, and where “the most docile and cowardly social body
that has ever existed in human history” (Agamben is referring here
to current Western societies) “readily does everything that he [sic]
is asked to do, inasmuch as he leaves his everyday gestures and his
health, his amusements and his occupations, his diet and his desires,
to be commanded and controlled.”27
A passively participating contemporary subject does move about,
does desire, amuses him or herself and others, plays politics and
makes art, even sometimes politically demonstrates – but only as long
as all these motions and desires remain fit within a regime of visibility
and signification that above all announces itself as the only possible
mode of being. “To participate? Of course!” this subject says, only to
add: “But only in that which has already been fitted (in) as fit for par­
ticipation!” In other words, I will participate in movements that follow
the logic of a dominant choreographic imperative (move along, move
along, but only on the pre-assigned paths, according to pre-assigned
steps) and that leave no room for excess or surprise, stumbles or inven-
tiveness, rebellion or disobedience – the unexpected and its callings.
Spectator or dancer, politician or choreographer, artist or critic, curator
or scholar – we all participate, we all partake – but the question that
Copeland’s observation annoyingly places before us, the choreopoliti-
cal challenge it introduces in affirming the relation between art and
politics is this: how much in participating and by participating do we
actually engage with a kind of moving that takes us no other place
than where we are (always) already (properly) expected to arrive at?
The problem is how passive participation and disengaged sensorial
redistribution are fostered by a generalized spectacle of mobility that,

26 See Luc Boltanski, ”The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution”, Daniel
Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw eds., Under Pressure. Pictures, Subjects, and the New
Spirit of Capitalism (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2008).
27 Giorgio Agamben, What is an apparatus? (California: Stanford University Press,
2009), p. 23.


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in its agitation, in its performance of circulation, keeps us all stale,
fixed – policed and policing, to use Rancière’s concept.28

Energeia, or: Engaged Action

With freedom to sensorially redistribute, yet disengaged, the question

is how to transform passive agitation (i.e., a movement that by moving
keeps everything in place), how to transform aesthetic yet disengaged
participation into engaged action. Which means that the choreopoliti-
cal question for a passive-yet-participating society becomes the follow-
ing: how to rescue and activate politically and aesthetically that other
central element constitutive of the political (at least as much as dis-
sensus), energeia? That concept coined by Aristotle where notions of
actuality, work, ephemerality and dynamics all converge to manifest
and produce (choreo-)political energy?29 As work that works, as energy
that energizes, and as movement that in moving triggers action, the
semantic field defined by energeia is one without which there would
be no politics; and indeed, no dancing. Energeia qualifies movement
(kinesis) not only as something that moves, but as a motion that acts.
It is thanks to it that a movement becomes activation and actualiza-
tion – of corporeal and critical capacities towards the composition and
formation of engaged modes of existence. It is in this sense that my
concerns today repeat the challenge that Erin Manning posed to us in
her remarks during her opening lecture of this Conference with Brian
Massumi: as when Manning invoked the urgent necessity for imagin-
ing and enacting what she called a renewed “practice of engagement.”
I find the need for a renewed practice of engagement a particularly
pressing challenge before any politics of perception predicated on col-
lective political disengagement and performed by the spectacle of (con-
sensual) agitations and (consensual) demonstrations.
It seems to me that the dangerous formation of a new political con­
servatism of the senses, is being implemented less by a “policing” of
the senses (where what is perceived is only that which is supposed to
be perceived, where what is sayable is only that which is supposed
to be said, and where saying and perceiving fit tightly into a narrow
band of semiotic correspondence), and more through a kind of passive
­partaking, or disengaged methexis, disguised as a supposedly ­liberating

28 As Gabriel Rockhill explains, for Rancière, “the essence of the police, therefore,
is not repression but rather a certain distribution of the sensible that precludes the
emergence of politics.” – Rancière, Politics of Aesthetics, p. 89.
29 Arendt, Human Condition, p. 206.


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politics of perception. We could call it: right-wing psychedelia. Such a
project is not exclusive to Copeland’s notions of “perceptual freedom,”
and thus requires some inquiry into what it means to state that partici-
pation, partaking, methexis, a politics of the perceptible, an emanci-
pated spectator, an emancipated artist (why not!) are not quite enough
for what is politically and aesthetically needed in order to establish an
engaged, active, misfit dissensuality. What does it mean to affirm the
need for choreopolitical, artistic-political formations of something else?
Let’s call for now this something else a differential factor of subjecti-
vation, a differential factor of activation, one that would necessarily
supplement partaking as a mode and a practice of engagement. Here,
once again, the term energeia would be of use. Not as a transcenden-
tal signifier for a universal politics of hope, but as the name of any
affective-energetic field necessary for the concrete initiation and actu-
alization of any movement that acts because engaged with a specific
political situation and its demands.
It is perhaps a matter of historical subjectivity; or rather, of how
historicity interfaces political subjectivities in regards to dance and
politics (the dialectics of history and agency Randy Martin problema-
tized in Critical Moves30). In such dialectics between historical forces
and moving bodies what emerges is a third, called subjectivity. Mark
Franko has shown in his book The Work of Dance how dance and
politics in New York in the 1930s fused intimately to create a co-ex-
tensive affective field of compossibilization of political purpose and
action. Thanks to a mutual sharing of a true affective-political field, a
subjectivity energized by a sentiment of revolutionary imminence (or
even by a dynamics of revolutionary immanence) could be produced
not only by dancing but also by witnessing dancing. This particular
choreopolitical affective field was criss-crossed by such a degree of
mutual engagement that it could be said that the aesthetic regime of
dance in New York City in the 1930s was one profoundly invested
in practicing kinetically what it meant politically to create gestures,
steps, positions, dynamics, assemblages that would indeed actualize
and energize a revolutionary movement.31 If this kind of collective
compossibilization of affects, politics, dances, perceptual and affec-
tive dissensual energies leading to active engagement was once not
only conceivable, but indeed actualized, indeed practiced, the ques-
tion for us today is this: how to re-activate an affective-political field

30 See Randy Martin, Critical moves: Dance studies in theory and politics (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1998).
31 See Mark Franko, Dancing modernism/performing politics (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1995).


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so that it could initiate potent activations of political subjectivities and
movements? The related question is this: are we condemned to be,
as Agamben so depressingly diagnosed, these perpetually passive-yet-
participatory subjects, following commands as if they were our deepest
wishes, fitting our dissensual impetus into well-measured coordinates
of consensual good (or expected) behavior, all for the sake of perpetu-
ating the same old modes of conceiving participation and of perform-
ing transgressions? In this light, the perceptual politics for a dissensual
distribution of the sensible would require, I would suggest, a more
active verb than “to participate.” I propose that to define that mode of
engagement that would guarantee an active participation of the partak-
ing of the sensible, even the Rancièrian concept of “demonstration”
(manifestation) is not enough. Rather, it would take a verb that, as
Deleuze would say, would not be content in being the description of
an action, but rather affirm itself as the true expression of an event.32
This verb that engages engagement in a politics only dancing can both
conceive and enact is, I would suggest, to initiate.
I risk this explicitly Arendtian term only because, as is known, Han-
nah Arendt linked it to the notions of action, of taking initiative, of
actualization, of the nascent event, and of energeia. And therefore,
linked it to the act of leading, to the ethics of following, and to the
affect-event of courage (this last term understood as a human poten-
tial, not as a personality trait of some few). The notion of courageously
taking initiative is derived from Arendt’s investment on the etymologi-
cal potentialities contained in the Greek word archein – as denoting
not only action but also the “setting of something in motion.”33 This is
why taking initiative, to initiate an act, is always a profoundly political
and kinetic phenomenon. To initiate is the verb-event that occasions
dance as politics.
But would this invocation of Arendt’s notion of action as an eth-
ics and a politics of initiative, already announce yet another set of
problems? Namely, the danger deriving from the inevitable semantic
resonances “to initiate” has with heroic feats, performed by a “heroic
leader,” more or less solitary, more or less condemned to have nothing
but followers of his or her “courageous” initiatives? Rancière critiques
Arendt precisely on this issue of “taking initiative” and its heroics. He
sees both as tied, in Arendt, to a misconstrued, even naïf, image of the
leader as solitary hero. Rancière countered Arendt by reminding us

32 For verbs as events, see Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (New York: Columbia
University Press): “For it is not true that the verb represents an action. It expresses
an event.” – Ibid., p. 184.
33 Arendt, Human Condition, p. 177.


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that arkhê also means to walk at the head (of a group) and concluded:
“if there is one who walks at the head, then the others must necessar-
ily walk behind.”34 Rancière further characterized the actions of those
who “walk behind” in ways that somewhat describe (I want to empha-
size here, and strongly, somewhat) the subjugation of any subject who
decides to participate in a choreographic system of command: “to stay
silent and submit”;35 to go where the choreographer tells the dancer
to go, efficiently and without questioning (much). In this submissive
silence of the followers, of those “who walk behind,” we understand
how choreography and political leading may become theoretically
understood and may be actually practiced as unidirectional systems
of commands dictated by those who are leading at the head (the cho-
reographer, the sovereign). We can also understand the crucial link
between autocratic regimes and their predilection for performances of
choreographic discipline, from North Korean mass dances to fascist

Followingleading, or: To Dance the Interval

But the question of choreographic autocracy and choreographic obedi-

ence is still present in less rigid formations of power. Karl Marx saw in
any profession aligned with performance a permanent danger of servil-
ity, a permanent danger for the performer to become a mere follower
of someone else’s lead or command.36 However, dancing demonstrates
before our eyes that there is much more to the work of the follower
than to submissively shut up and walk behind in passive, or servile, or
obedient participation. For instance, Erin Manning has shown, in her
essays on tango37 but perhaps even more astutely in her extraordinary
essay “The Elasticity of the Almost”38, the possibility of conceiving
and of practicing a following that is not reduced to passive obedience
to a leader’s command. Rather, in her fine choreopolitical empiricism,
Manning shows that to follow is to initiate – in other words, to follow

34 Rancière, Dissensus, p. 30.

35 Ibid., ibid.
36 Paolo Virno, A grammar of the multitude: for an analysis of contemporary forms
of life (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004), pp. 53–56.
37 See Erin Manning, Politics of touch: sense, movement, sovereignty (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
38 Erin Manning, ”The Elasticity of Almost”, eds. André Lepecki and J. Joy, Planes
of Composition: dance, theory and the global (London, New York: Seagull Press,


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is to take the initiative of engaging with the leader and demonstrating
through engaging that the leader is always the one who, by leading and
because of leading, must follow.
Manning: “I begin by taking her in my arms. […] We walk. I am
leading. But that does not mean I am deciding. Leading is more like
initiating an opening, entering the gap, then following her response.
How I follow [as leader], with what intensity we create the space,
will influence how our bodies move together.”39 Watching Manning
and her partner dancing in this space of leading-as-following, of an
a-personal leadingfollowing, we observe how steps hesitate, go off
tempo, actualize non-metric rhythms through a partnering that is nei-
ther hierarchical nor “heroic.”40 Manning calls this mode of leading
by following, and of following by taking initiative, the relational cre-
ation of an “interval.” Couldn’t we say that the creation of this mov­
ing interval, of this moving together without synchrony and without
identification, without autocracy nor submission, is also the formation
of that partaking gap that for Rancière founds the political? The politi-
cal understood now as the mobilization of that rupturing interval that
defines dissensus? Only now, we can supplement Rancière’s concept.
We can add to the notion of dissensus the (constitutive) necessity of
a courageous choreopolitics of engagement, one where all elements in
place risk taking initiative, risk to initiate, that is to say: risk activating
movement towards the actualization of an yet unmapped nascent event.
It is this particular mode of engaging that confuses the semantic logic
of dissensus because in the political singularity of dance, following-as-
leading-as-following requires a kind of a-personal agreement, a kind
of necessarily uneven partaking, which can only exist because of the
always teetering moving gap that emerges once all elements present
in the assemblage refuse the function of authoritative authorship: in
this kind of choreopolitical plane of composition (so clearly visible in
Erin Manning’s mode of leading-following when tangoing) a kind of
shifting adherence, an immanent yet precarious, always renegotiated
a-personal suturing, must take place again and again, with every new
step, gesture or move, so that an always incalculable, always unpre-
dictable, and yet necessary dancing may come into being thanks to
the engagement of the multiple and heterogeneous elements of the
To dance in the moving interval of dissensual partnering is to suture
lines of initiatives in a dynamics of necessarily anonymous leading
and following. Here, leading does not emerge as force of unidirectional

39 Ibid., p. 108.
40 See, for instance:


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authority, or of command, tied to an identifiable person-author-leader;
just as following does not emerge as merely reactive and servile
behavior. Rather, in their true choreo-political nature both become
intertwined forces jointly affirming that a-personal singularity or
event that we could name leadingfollowing or simply: a dancing that
initiates. Dancing, one engages by constantly taking the initiative to
fuse and to confuse lines of authority and of submission. Engaged,
dancing becomes the act of fabricating permanent diffusions of leading
positions and following positions  – thanks to a constant weaving of
disparate and endless lines of initiatives and counter-initiatives. Such
active co-engagement is aimed at only one result, which is never fully
achieved, as long as it is actively pursued: the dance itself. This is what
Arendt called actualization  – a process always involving three very
important elements, two of which are deeply tied to dance’s political
and aesthetic ontology: “the unpredictability of its outcome” and “the
irreversibility of its process.”41 The third and last one, “the anonymity
of its authors,”42 offers the most complicated aspect of action as it
relates to the formation of a reconstituted politics and to the possibility
of an engaged art. For this necessary (ethical) anonymity implies a
politics without politicians (or without personalities) and a dance
without choreographers (or without authors).
A-personal actualizations of leadingfollowing would require mov-
ing away from Arendt’s emphasis on what she called the “who” – a
figure doubly attached to a “self” and to a “biography” affirming the
person as primary agent and source of all political initiative.43 They
also require moving away from theatrical dance’s onto-historical ties
to the epideitic mode of rhetoric44, deeply linked to western theatrical
dance’s constitutive narcissism.45 We can see those two elements (the
epideitic, the narcissistic) traversing and defining the whole history
of western dance, with consequences at the political level and at the
level of subjectivation: “The dancer’s own person is the ultimate and
single object of praise and dispraise in the dance,” writes Franko in
regards to Renaissance dance. Which explains the dubious predica-
ment of dance before its political promises since “the dancing body

41 Arendt, Human Condition, p. 220.

42 Ibid.
43 “Action without a name, a ‘who’ attached to it, is meaningless.” – Ibid., p. 180
f. See also ibid., pp. 186–192.
44 See Franko, Dancing Body.
45 For a discussion of this specific narcissism see José Gil, ”Paradoxical Body”, eds.
A. Lepecki and J. Joy, Planes of Composition: dance, politics and the global (London,
New York: Seagull Press, 2009), p. 88 f.


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must in turn display the admirable self or praise and index this display
as praise worthy, elicit praise.”46 The link between dance and the epi-
deitic is nothing more than the unbearable personification of dance,
defining and orientating western theatrical dance from its beginnings
to a fetishization of the dancer’s body and personality (his or her “cha-
risma” or “aura”) over the a-personal compositional plane of chore-
ography and over a-personal elements in the actualization of dancing.
With the notion of leadingfollowing, what is being proposed is the
demise of this aesthetic-political continuum predicated on the praising
of the dancer’s person; what is being proposed is a political-choreo-
graphic process through which those who dance dare create something
that always exceeds predetermined acts and intentions. Leadingfollow­
ing and yet never as a person understood as a formation for praise and
the enhanced display of praiseworthy “feats” -- but always as imma-
nent force, invisibly composing a particularly unexpected dancing, a
particularly singular actualization of what really matters, rather than
the matter of regal exceptionality.
I am thankful to Xavier Le Roy to have reminded me that another
example in dance of an engaged actualization without a product, of par-
ticipatory leadingfollowing making precarious planes of composition
filled with series of engaged negotiations and courageous initiatives
between several a-personal subjects is Contact Improvisation. In this
mode of dancing, where momentary collective assemblages of several
partners mingle to produce a result that is always more than the sum
of personal intentions, individual bodies, limbs and their trajectories,
leadingfollowing would name the mode of moving of a highly engaged
social collective – as much as it would accurately describe the collec-
tive’s mode of taking endless series of courageous initiatives. Indeed,
these series of initiatives, predicated on a hyper-engagement of all
senses, and hyper-acceleration of sensorial perceptions and redistribu-
tions to the infinite speed of thought, produce Contact Improvisation’s
kinetic actualizations. As Steve Paxton, one of the co-inventors of the
technique, once remarked: “we discovered that for every action several
equal opposite reactions are possible. Therein lies the opportunity for
improvisation.”47 In Contact, the opportunity for improvisation lies not
in the genius of an authorial self, nor in the genius of an aesthetically
participative yet collectively disengaged dancer. It lies in the forma-
tion of an a-personal force field of actions and counter actions, emerg-
ing and dissolving as ever-multiplying actions and counter actions.

46 Franko, Dancing Body, p. 22.

47 Steve Paxton in the film Fall After Newton (Video, Color and Black&White, 22
min and 45 secs, 1987).


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These actions of simultaneously initiating and receiving momentum,
of always being taken by momentum and generating momentum at
the infinite border of potentiality of a movement that even when still
initiates reveals the political potential in engaging dancing.
I started this essay with a critique of recent discourses on aesthet-
ics (Copeland’s, Rancière’s, Agamben’s) that privilege perceptual re-
distribution as the link between politics and aesthetics. I identified
in these discourses the danger of a passive participation, despite (or
because of) their emphasis on “sensorial reframing of the given”. I
then moved to a consideration of some dances that propose not only
“perceptual freedom” but actualizations of reconfigured political for-
mations through motions that, by moving, act and initiate (what I
called leadingfollowing). I noted how, explicitly in Copeland’s “politics
of perception”, and more subtly in Rancière’s, the strict identification
of the political with aesthetics through a “distribution of the sensible”
extracts from the political one of its key, constitutive, and most active
elements: energeia. I distinguished action from mere spectacles of agi-
tation. And I also noted, with the work of Mark Franko on leftist dance
in the 1930s, how (political) energy is neither a fiction, nor a univer-
sal transcendental signifier, but it erupts historically as a significant
and tangible political-affective phenomenon, indeed transforming the
very notion of spectatorship, and therefore notions of aesthetics and
of politics. Emphasizing how energeia is linked (thanks to Arendt’s
particular use of this term) to the verb-event to initiate, I proposed
that “to initiate” is not synonym to “to impose” but rather a catalyzing
singularity; and I showed how the philosophy and dance of Erin Man-
ning as well Contact Improvisation (but the examples do not end with
these two cases) demonstrate that “to initiate” is always to confuse
and to blur “leading” and “following” into a single (political) forma-
tion: leadingfollowing. With this concept, which is both descriptive
and choreographic, we can see how dance enacts a crucial (choreo)
political critique of leadership, one that detaches leading from com-
manding, and following from submission, thanks to the explicit forma-
tion of an a-personal field of endless negotiations and transformations.
In sliding from my initial focus on spectatorship (and its concomi-
tant politics of perception) to a focus on the performer, or the dancer
(and on the choreopolitics of their engaged initiatives) the point is not
of privileging one over the other, but to propose that the differential
factor between political paralysis (disengaged “perceptual freedom”)
and political change (actualization of the unforeseeable) is not to be
found in sensorial distribution or partage, but in the act of initiating a
movement that in its imperfection actualizes the nascent unthinkable


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beyond authoritative authors, leaders, artists, and disengaged (yet per-
ceptually free!) spectators or aesthetes.
Agamben reminded us not too long ago: “Movement is the impos-
sibility, indefiniteness and imperfection of every politics. It always
leaves a residue. […] It is the threshold of indeterminacy between
an excess and a deficiency that marks the limit of every politics in
its constitutive imperfection.”48 Constitutive imperfection of politics.
Constitutive imperfection of movement. Both demanding the impera-
tive to courageously engage, so that we do not fall into passive par-
ticipatory partitionings of the sensible. To dare taking initiative, even
in the most adverse environments. To dare to lead just to discover the
courage to follow. To dance so to set something in motion, but only
if this activation of movement is aimed at not seeing motion falling
in proper steps, fit, attached to personhood’s traps. Leadingfollowing.
­Followingleading. Relinquishing the personal, so that “the unexpected
can be expected […] to perform what is infinitely improbable.”49

48 Giorgio Agamben, “Movement, 2005”, Multitudes online, http://multitudes. (August 4, 2011). Link posted March 8, 2005.
49 Arendt, Human Condition, p. 178.


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Oliver Marchart

Dancing Politics
Political Reflections on Choreography, Dance and Protest

What is the lesson politics can draw from dance? In the following I will
not so much approach this question by focusing on dance as a genre of
fine arts. Of course, as an art form, dance has always been articulated
with politics: from the initial moments of ballet at the court of Louis
XIV, where it was an intrinsic element of what Habermas called the
representational public sphere of the court and a central element in
constructing the grandiose public persona of the sovereign, via New
York’s Workers’ Dance League with their intriguing slogan: Dance is a
weapon in the revolutionary class struggle, to the innumerable dance
events today driven by more or less radical political intentions. While
it would be fascinating to present a political history of dance, this is
not going to be my concern. For the start, I would like to approach
the question from the opposite angle, from the perspective of politics
and the role dance plays within political practices. In other words, this
chapter will not be so much concerned with whatever is political in
dance as a cultural or artistic genre, but with what might be dance-like
in political acting. What happens, we will ask, when today’s sovereign,
the people, start dancing publicly for reasons of protest? Only after this
question has been clarified, I will return to two examples of “dancing
politically” that originated from the art field  – “East Side Story” by
the Croatian artist Igor Grubic, and “How long is now?” by the Israeli
performance collective Public Movement.

The politics of frivolity

Let us take the following observation as a starting point: In the course of

the last protest cycle, largely defined by the actions of the global justice
movement and, more recently, the Occupy movement and other radical
democratic movements, dancing has become an intrinsic and, indeed,
ubiquitous part of protest. It is inseparable from the movement’s protest
repertoire. Where protests occur, as a rule, there will be trucks with
sound systems and a crowd of dancing people following them, there
will be samba bands or drum bands such as Rhythms of Resistance,
there will be radical cheerleaders of whatever gender exercising and
waving their pompoms, perhaps there will be soldiers of the Insurgent
Rebel Clown Army marching and pantomiming. In other words, there


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is all sorts of performative pomp and circumstances involved in today’s
political protest. But hasn’t this always been the case?
The most famous rhetorical conjunction of politics with dance is
attributed, as everyone knows, to the anarchist and feminist Emma
Goldman: “If I can’t dance it’s not my revolution.” This slogan has
become protest folklore, endlessly quoted and printed on T-shirts,
posters, leaflets and buttons. The appeal of the slogan is all the more
remarkable as, indeed, Emma Goldman never said this. In fact, it is
possible to trace back the creation of the slogan to the early 1970s. As
the feminist writer and activist Alix Kates Shulman, author of a Gold-
man biography, recounts, she was asked in 1973 by an activist from
the anarchist centre at Lower Manhattan’s Lafayette Street for a quot-
able slogan by Emma Goldman.1 His intention was to print Goldman
T-shirts for an upcoming festival at Central Park where the end of the
Vietnam War was to be celebrated. Shulman did not provide him with
a slogan but referred him to a passage in Emma Goldman’s autobiogra-
phy Living my Life. And there, the following episode is reported.

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a
cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a
grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade,
he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly
not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who
was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity
would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind
his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into
my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for
anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should
demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect
me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a
cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to
self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism
meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world--prisons,
persecution, everything.2

There is certainly no literal trace of the slogan to be found in this

passage, but one must concede that the slogan wraps up nicely what is
Goldman’s main message as a dancing revolutionary: Contrary to the

1 Alix Kates Shulman: “Dances With Feminists”, in Women’s Review of Books IX:3
2 Emma Goldman: Living My Life, vol. 1 (New York: Cosimo 2008), p. 56.


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young comrade’s opinion, frivolity – or what is taken to be frivolous,
such as excessive dancing – does not hurt the Cause. What is more, a
Cause that doesn’t accommodate “everybody’s right to beautiful, radi-
ant things” is not worth fighting for. Half a century later, the anarchist
from Lafayette Street seems to have understood this and condensed the
passage of Goldman’s autobiography into a slogan that would spread
like a virus.

The gap between Cause and goal

This is a nice story from the good old days of 70s anarchism and Anti-
Vietnam protests. Yet it does not in itself provide us with answers to
a far-reaching set of questions: Why was the apocryphal quote that
successful? Why did it obviously touch at the very core of contemporary
activists’ self-understanding? Why, in general, do people seem to long
for the articulation of politics with dance? In short: Why is there a real
wish for more than simply a politics of dance  – a wish for dancing
There can be no simple answer to these questions, but it appears
that the slogan describes something rooted in the very logic of politi-
cal mobilization. For what is conjured up by the slogan is a particular
supplement or excessive element that is added to a concrete demand
or cause. The same logic can be detected in the famous conjunction
“Bread and Roses”, another apocryphal slogan that is commonly attrib-
uted to workers, mostly women, on strike against the textile industry
in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. Even though it is impossible to
verify whether or not such a phrase was actually used in the Lawrence
strike, the slogan was highly successful as an imaginary focus point
for later protests. As in the case of the Goldman slogan, something
excessive and non-utilitarian is demanded, even though it remains not
entirely clear what precisely these “roses” or these “beautiful, radi-
ant things” actually are. As supplements to a concrete demand, these
sublime objects seem to remind us that no protest – perhaps nothing
in the world – follows utilitarian considerations only. Certainly, there
is always a Cause of protest, which can be more or less concrete (a
particular grievance, the lowering of the wages, for instance) or more
or less abstract (like exploitation, or alienation in general), and goals
or objectives will be formulated to overcome these grievances. But
if the goal, should it eventually be attained, does not entirely fill out
the lack initially experienced as a Cause of action, there will remain
a gap between the Cause of the protest and the object attained. Even
if a particular goal is attained, say, if someone like Obama eventually


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manages to become president of the United States, disappointment is
programmed as he will never be able to remove all grievances.
It is the discrepancy between cause and objective that calls for and
opens up a space for imaginary supplements to the concreteness of a
particular suffering and a particular remedy. This supplement, to the
extent that it is by nature excessive – as in the deliberately excessive
slogan “We want the whole world!” –, can certainly take on different
forms. One of these forms is violence, most clearly when a protest
transforms into something of the order of a pogrom, or into terror, as
in the case of the French Revolution. Another form might be anxiety,
if the gap between cause and objective is experienced as an unbridge-
able abyss. But a more sympathetic form of excess is precisely what
Emma Goldman described as “beautiful radiant things”: In short, dance
assumes the role of a supplement to Revolution. The subtext of the
Goldman phrase can thus be deciphered as follows: Without excessive
supplement, there is no revolution  – and instead of terror, violence
or anxiety, I, Emma Goldman, opt for dancing.3 So far, Goldman’s
theory of dance seems pretty clear, but perhaps not radical enough.
Having determined dancing as an ubiquitous phenomenon of protest,
we might want to push the argument even further. What if dancing,
and whatever it stands for in the Goldman case, is not merely a sup-
plement to revolutionary politics, what if something of the order of
dance was inscribed into the very structure of political acting? In other
words, what if political acting had the same structure as dance? What
if political acting was not so much about “doing politics”, but about, as
it were, dancing politics? This might sound like a rather eccentric idea,
but interestingly, it has been said before about politics. It is an intrinsic
element of Hannah Arendt’s concept of political acting.

Acting as dancing: The joyous ground of politics

Let us, for a moment, revisit Arendt’s highly original and, I would
claim, subversive account of political acting that runs counter to most
aspects of today’s commonsensical notion of politics (politics as a bor-
ing if not dirty business, politicians as a corrupt cast of untouchables,
hated by everyone, etc.). According to Arendt, the idea that doing
politics is a burden rather than something exciting only came into the

3 Let me just mention in passing that this is in stark contrast to some of today’s
theories of the political, rather successful ones, that display a sort of juvenile, or
rather masculinist fascination not with dancing but with terror and violence. I’m
thinking in particular of the work of Slavoj Žižek.


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world with Christianity. While she agrees that nobody would want to
spend his or her whole life in the “light of the public”, a life spent in
what she calls the darkness of the private – a life without politics –
would be equally deficient. On the contrary, political acting gives a
particular quality to life. She therefore comes up with a claim that flies
in the face of our accustomed understanding of politics. As she says
in an interview about the student protesters of May 68, these students
have experienced what in true politics is always experienced: It turned
out for them that “acting is fun”.4
Nothing, as I said, could be further away from our commonsensical
notion of today’s politics, but if we consider the significant degree of
fun involved in contemporary forms of protest, and if we add Emma
Goldman’s defense of frivolity and dance, then Arendt’s claim starts
sounding less eccentric. Of course, for some reasons the category of
“fun” so far hasn’t made it into political thought (which might be side-
effect of our sense that theory or philosophy must not have anything to
do with fun either), nor is our habitual notion of the political equipped
to accommodate it. In a more elevated or sublimated sense this affect
was at least present in the demand for “public happiness” during the
American revolution, as Arendt reminds us, even though the public
character of it got lost in the course of the revolution and the demand
for public happiness degenerated into the pursuit of individual happi-
ness. Yet it is the publicness of happiness which every human being,
according to Arendt, should have experienced at least once in his or
her life. But what exactly is the source of such happiness, or how do
we have to understand what for Arendt constitutes the public character
of acting? At least three criteria can be discerned.
First, happiness emerges from the fact that we can only act together,
that there is a certain communality involved in all political acting; a
communality, though, which at the same time retains the plurality of
the political world. This is very close to what Jean-Luc Nancy calls
social being, or “being-with”, as “being singular plural”.5
Second, the affect of public happiness is compared by Arendt to
the happiness with which we greet the new-born. Hence, at the root
of happiness lies the existential condition of natality. Yet we should
be careful not to interpret this condition in a biological sense: What
Arendt refers to with the notion of natality is something more abstract

4 I have discussed Arendt’s assertion extensively in Oliver Marchart: “‘Acting Is

Fun’. Aktualität und Ambivalenz im Werk Hannah Arendts”, Deutsche Zeitschrift
für Philosophie, Sonderband 16 (2007): Hannah Arendt: Verborgene Tradition  –
Unzeitgemäße Aktualität?, pp. 349–358.
5 Jean-Luc Nancy: Being Singular Plural (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).


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that has the structure of a quasi-transcendental condition of possibility
for acting. Acting is premised upon our ability to start something new,
upon our condition, as Kant would have said, of spontaneity. And we
are able to begin because we are, existentially speaking, beginners: we
ourselves were thrown into the world as a new beginning. The political
event par excellence in which our capacity to begin is actualized is, of
course, the revolution. What the revolutionaries experience in the very
happiness of their acting is nothing other than their actualized capacity
to begin something new.
Third, and with this point we re-approach the conjuncture of politics
and dance, acting takes place on the stage of the public and is therefore
compared by Arendt, in The Human Condition, to theatrical acting – an
idea for which she draws, of course, on Greek antiquity. For Arendt,
the space of acting is “a space of appearance in the widest sense of the
word, namely, the space where I appear to others as others appear to
me, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things
but make their appearance explicitly.”6 While public space only comes
into being wherever men act together, it disappears as soon as they stop
acting. For this reason, the space of appearance, the stage of the public,
is a precarious and fleeting thing as it only emerges during the moments
of acting. These moments might not endure, since political acting is
nothing stable nor does it produce anything stable. Arendt stresses the
futility, boundlessness and uncertainty with respect to its outcome.
Acting, in contrast to the activity of making or fabricating, is not con-
cerned with a particular product or oeuvre. If we think of the arts, then
a political actor does not play the role of a sculptor who would carve
a distinctive work out of stone. Rather, the work of acting, as Arendt
puts it, “is embedded in the performance”. And because it is an “end
in itself”, the true value of acting can only stem from the virtuosity with
which we actualize our capacity to act in concert and to start something
new, not in the goal we seek to achieve through our action.
It is at this point of her argument that Arendt compares political act-
ing to dancing: “as in the performance of the dancer or play-actor, the
‘product’ is identical with the performing act itself”. In modern societies
this idea, which is Aristotelian in particular, disappeared and the Greek
value system was inverted. Adam Smith, she observes, “­classifies all
occupations which rest essentially on performance – such as the mili-
tary profession, ‘churchmen, lawyers, physicians and opera-singers’
(…) the lowest and most unproductive ‘labour’”. But, as Arendt insists
in concluding the argument, “[I]t was precisely these occupations  –

6 Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1958), pp. 198–199.


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healing, flute-playing, play-acting – which furnished ancient thinking
with examples of the highest and greatest activities of man”.7 Here, in
the concluding sentence, the example of dance is not taken up again.
However, it is telling that in Vita Activa, Hannah Arendt’s own trans-
lation of The Human Condition into German, which is slightly more
sophisticated than the English original, the same sentence is signifi-
cantly expanded and dancing is re-introduced into the list: “In diesem
von der modernen Gesellschaft ursprünglich so tief verachteten Vir-
tuosentum, in den ‘brotlosen’ Künsten des Flötenspielens oder der
Tanzens oder des Theaterspielens, hatte antikes Denken einmal die
Beispiele und Illustrationen gefunden, an denen es sich die höchsten
und größten Möglichkeiten des Menschen vergegenwärtigte.”8

From flute-playing to lap-dancing

Let me recapitulate. It turned out that the third criterion of public

happiness, of joy or fun in politics, springs from the public display of
one’s own virtuosity, in a performance whose end lies in itself. This is
why political acting, for Arendt, is structurally the same as dancing.9
One might ask whether this is a realistic account of politics. But we
must remember that for Arendt realism implies that we confront and
phenomenologically describe what she, the pupil of Heidegger’s,
considers an existential dimension of acting. Her account is realistic in
the sense that it captures an affective dimension all of us experience
when acting together in public. And yet, I do think that Arendt’s
description of joyful acting, as much as it is validated by the frivolities
of contemporary protest, is far from being exhaustive. There are other
aspects or dimensions of protest imposing themselves precisely where
we find them intrinsically articulated with dancing and frivolity. Let
us take as an example a particular instance of dancing protest. This
instance occurred at the demonstrations against the G20 meeting in
Toronto in the summer of 2010. In terms of dancing “genres” what
was performed there was a lap dance by two half-naked guys with
the riot police as their target. This lap dance was accompanied by the
collective chant: “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit”.

7 Arendt: The Human Condition, p. 207.

8 Hannah Arendt: Vita Activa oder Vom tätigen Leben (München and Zürich: Piper,
1992), p. 202.
9 Provided we are talking about dancing-together, dancing in terms of plurality and
communality, rather than thinking of a solo performance.


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Although this incident was not all too spectacular, it was spectacular
enough to make it into CNN’s coverage of the Toronto protests.10
This is certainly a case of dancing politics; but even though the pro-
testers seem to have a lot of fun, and even though at least one of the
protesters displays a certain degree of virtuosity in lap dancing, it does
not seem to fit exactly the Arendtian account of public happiness. To
be sure, there is fun involved and togetherness or commonality, but
the situation, queer as it is, is confrontational as well. I would go as far
as claiming that the lap dance, even if it is considered funny, involves
a moment of symbolic violence. This violence may amount to next to
nothing, compared to the physical violence unleashed should some
authority decide to let loose the robocops. And one may even defend
this dance as a legitimate response to police brutality in form of sym-
bolic counter-violence. Yet it is hard to deny that pure and innocent
happiness looks differently. Dancing, in this case, is inscribed into
the protest vocabulary as a form not simply of frivolity, but of tactical
frivolity – a particular form of protest that for the first time received
attention with the emergence of the so-called Pink and Silver block at
the demonstration against the World Bank and IMF meeting in Prague
in 2000.

The minimal conditions of dancing politically

For this reason we will have to come to terms with the fact that, in
order to talk about real life politics, we have to supplement the supple-
ment; that is to say, we have to add to the Arendtian category of public
happiness further categories, whether we like these categories or not,
that allow for a more precise und comprehensive understanding of
political acting. In a quasi-transcendental sense one may speak about
the minimal conditions of politics, conditions that allow us to discern
a political form of dance from its communal form, e.g. a lap dance
confronting the riot police from a Milonga in the streets of Buenos
Aires. Even though there is no space here to develop a more extensive
argument, which I have tried to work out elsewhere, some of these
minimal conditions can be detected phenomenologically in the most
modest political activities such as lap-dancing.11 As this very example

10 Like everything else in the world, this Toronto lap dance can also be found on
11 See chapter 10 on Minimal Politics in Oliver Marchart: Die politische Differenz.
Zum Denken des Politischen bei Nancy, Lefort, Badiou, Laclau und Agamben (Berlin:
Suhrkamp, 2010); and Oliver Marchart: “Democracy and Minimal Politics: The


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illustrates, a couple of minimal conditions are met which allow us to
use the term politics, even though it will be politics on a very minor
As a first condition, as I hinted at already, these actors do not act out
of pure spontaneity (even though, again, actors might think of them-
selves as highly spontaneous) – they act in a tactically and, perhaps,
even strategically concerted and organized way. This is a necessary
condition simply for the reason that every political act will face resis-
tance by other political actors, and every actor will act on a terrain
entrenched by dissymmetries of power and subordination, which in
turn necessitates a strategic approach in order to take on these rela-
tions or to find your way around them. This is what, among other
things, “tactical frivolity” is about. For the same reason, political activ-
ism does have goals, contrary to what Arendt says about the difference
between acting and fabricating, where the former is supposed to have
its end in itself. Nobody would ever start acting politically if it was only
for the sake of acting. This is not to contradict everything Arendt said
about public happiness, but it is to supplement her account. There is
no acting that does not entail, in Arendtian terms, aspects of making
or fabricating, i.e. of tactics and strategy.
Second condition: The political actor is never an individual, it is a
collective that assembles to stage a protest. A person dancing alone in
darkness and in private does not stage a protest.12 To dance politically,
on the other side, means dancing together. But the community estab-
lished in this way, as heterogeneous as it might be, will never consist
of a pure dispersion of singular pluralities, as in Arendt’s conception
of acting-together or in Jean-Luc Nancy’s conception of singular plural
And the reason for this, third condition, is simply that a commu-
nity of protest can only be established through confrontational means.
These means do not have to imply physical violence, but there will
always be an aspect of symbolic violence involved. This aspect of sym-
bolic ­violence is implicated in the very logic of antagonism as it was
famously developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe.13 Dispersed

Political Difference and Its Consequences”, South Atlantic Quarterly 110, Fall 2011
(4):, pp. 965–973.
12 This is, by the way what happened to Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher of
dance if there ever was one, when his mind glided into darkness: it is reported that
his landlady, concerned about Nietzsche turning mad, glanced through the door in
his room where she saw Nietzsche dancing naked.
13 Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London
and New York: Verso, 1985).


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discursive elements (in my simplistic example: dispersed individuals
aspiring to stage a collective protest), that do not share any positive
feature, can only be assembled into a chain of equivalence, Laclau
and Mouffe claim, if they share at least a negative feature: a constitu-
tive, though negative outside, something which is taken to constitute
a threat to the identity of each and every one these elements. In this
sense, the policemen in their riot gear symbolize a much larger threat –
eventually ascribed to the state or to global capitalism – that consti-
tutes a precarious unity among groups that, on other accounts and in
terms of their positive demands, may not come to much ­agreement.
It is through this process of antagonism or antagonization, performed
through the strategic construction of a collectivity vis-à-vis a nega-
tive outside, that a public space is carved out of the social. We may
still accept Arendt’s seminal point, concerning the performativity of
political acting, that such a public sphere only emerges where people
start acting together and disappears when they stop acting. But if we
supplement the Arendtian account with the category of antagonism as
a necessary condition for the establishment of every political together-
ness, then it follows that antagonism will also be a necessary condition
for the emergence of a public sphere. A public sphere opens wherever
the routines, institutions and identities of our social world are touched
by antagonism. Again, by saying antagonism we don’t have to think of
an outright civil war. Antagonism can be performed through peaceful
dancing. We may just think of the case of Reclaim the Streets, a success-
ful international protest format, particularly in the 1990s, with roots
in the English free rave party scene of the late 80s and of the anti-road
protest. The initial idea was to turn areas reserved for traffic into a com-
munal public space by staging dance events on the streets. There was
sometimes a rather regressive communitarian undercurrent (encapsu-
lated in the fantasy of ruralizing the urban sphere of the city) which,
in my view, also undermined the political edge of the movement. Yet
in other cases the format was used to stage a clearly political or pro-
gressive protest, as in the case of the Viennese Volxtanz-Network and
their effort, as they called it, at Soundpolitisierung, the politicization of
sound, with which they demonstrated against the inclusion, in 2000, of
Jörg Haider’s right wing Freedom Party in the Austrian government.
In all these diverse cases, a similar logic can be determined. A tem-
porary public sphere is created performatively by way of obstructing
the sphere of circulation. Every staging of antagonism involves such a
blockage, and very similar to the case of a labour strike where the cir-
culation of goods and services is blocked within the economic sphere
(or a consumer boycott where the consumption of goods is blocked),
in the case of street protest it is the circulation of traffic which is


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blocked through, in this case, dancing. It is this blockading effect in
which we detect a fourth condition for public space to emerge where,
before, there was only an urban traffic space.

Embodied protest and protest choreographies

So far, I have outlined four conditions that eventually turn out to be

conditions for the creation of every public sphere through protest:
strategy, collectivity, conflictuality, and the blockade of streams of cir-
culation. I would like to add a fifth condition which is of particular
importance for street protest, even though it may appear self-evident,
perhaps even trivial. In street protest, antagonism is enacted, and
­circulation is blocked, by human bodies. The human body is the most
important medium through which a public space is curved out of the
social. Of course, this does not always have to occur in form of a mili-
tarized collective marching in-sync through the streets. Very often it is
precisely the vulnerability of bodies which is used as a ­performative
medium of protest (up to the extreme point where people decide to
publicly set themselves on fire). Taking this word of caution into
account, we may define street protest as the collective and embodied
activity of blocking streams of circulation whereby a line of conflict is
drawn through social space. And it is only along such a line of conflict
that a public in the true sense of the word emerges.
Isn’t this line, drawn by demonstrating bodies across a given (in
most cases urban) space, the trace of a more or less consciously elabo-
rated choreography? One may just think of the often times carefully
planned routes of street demonstrations (and of deviations from these
routes through police intervention). We therefore have to differenti-
ate between two dimensions of public protest: the larger protest cho-
reography by which urban space is refigured through demonstration
practices; and the protest politics incorporated by individuals and
inscribed into their bodies. These two dimensions of (1) movement
­choreography and (2) bodily “dance” always go together and can only
be differentiated analytically.14

14 One may just think, as examples, of the masculinist militancy of bodies formed
into the choreography of a uniformed “black block”; or, on the other end of the
scale, of the joyous frivolity of bodies choreographed into a partying Pink and Silver


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Dancing violence: Igor Grubic’s East Side Story

Let us try and apply the conceptual apparatus developed above to two
particular examples not so much of dancing politics than of political
dance. Igor Grubic’s East Side Story grew out of the deep distress the
Croatian artist experienced when confronted with video material from
the Gay Pride parades in Belgrade in 2001 and in Zagreb in 2002. At
these parades demonstrators faced not only the most vulgar verbal
insults by passers-by, they were even exposed to physical violence by
organized neo-fascists. Until today, one may add, Pride parades have
been immensely contentious in some Eastern European countries.
Sometimes they are simply interdicted by the authorities, sometimes
they are violently attacked by those who perceive of themselves as
members of a homogenous, “healthy” and, doubtlessly, heterosexual
people. In the West, though, these parades, from the very moment
of their invention, are famous for having integrated dance into their
carnevalesque protest repertoire. In doing so, they have managed to
re-capture public visibility in their own non-violent ways; and even
though some have criticized increasing commercialization and the loss
of political engagement (as it is the case with Berlin’s parade), it can-
not be denied that, precisely as political demonstrations, Pride parades
have been immensely successful.
It is at this point – the function of dancing politically – where Grubic
intervened. Being a visual artist himself, he set out to collaborate with
dancers and choreographers in order to restage the original protest
event. As the folder to the presentation of the piece resulting from this
collaboration says: “In a primitive community that brutally reacts to
differences, a small group of creative people, resembling a resistance
movement, will try to change people’s consciousness through a dance
ritual …” In the two-channel video installation first shown in the Bel-
grade Museum of Contemporary Art, one sees on one side of the room
the TV-material of the original events while on the other wall the danc-
ers are projected. What they did was not simply imitating the bodily
movements of violent protest. Rather, they dissected the movements
and translated the resulting elements into a choreography in which a
single dancer may incorporate gestures of both sides, sometimes within
a single flow of movement. Then all four dancers would reassemble
and, in a more obvious or recognizable way, stage bodily movements
that, if only remotely, bring to mind the original clashes.
Some might object that this work has nothing to do with art perfor-
mance in public space, as it is clearly situated intra muros, i.e. within
the walls of an art institution. Nevertheless, it remains of interest for
two reasons:


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Fig. 1: Igor Grubic: “East Side Story”. Photo: Igor Grubic.

First, it should not be seen so much as a political intervention in its

own right than as a reflection upon the conditions of protest within a
violently anti-gay environment. In this sense, it is quite telling that Gru-
bic approaches the events through the very format that was obviously
lacking in the original event (even though one would have expected
it in the case of Pride parades): dancing in the “fun” or carnevalesque
sense. Of course, it is clear why dance was lacking  – there was no
reason to dance while under physical attack. But Grubic decided to
restage the events precisely by means of that which had remained
symptomatically absent. However, by being re-introduced into the pic-
ture, dance takes on a completely different meaning. It becomes an
expression not of “tactical frivolity”, but of terroristic violence. As I
have said, the supplement of protest can take on many different forms,
and perhaps there is no political protest without such an affective and
bodily supplement. Here it is the violence of the counter-protesters
which serves as an obscene surplus to their Cause (of denying homo-
sexuals public visibility)  – a violence sublimated, or deconstructed,
by Grubic and the dancers into an artistic form. Therefore, it is more
than appropriate that the title of the work, “East Side Story”, refers to
a Musical film well-known for its celebrated dance scenes in which, in
particular, acts of violence between street gangs were sublimated into
a grandiose choreography.
Second, Grubic’s quasi-“resistance movement” returned to the pub-
lic sites where the original events had occurred. Not only was the video


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taken on the streets of Zagreb and Belgrade, but Grubic decided to
have all rehearsals on the spot. Stretching over a period of two months,
the choreography was developed right there in the public sphere. The
passers-by would thus be confronted with a “temporary monument”15
supposed to bring back the memories of the TV-images. So, East Side
Story to some degree was a performative intervention into public space.
But did it create a public in the political sense?
It goes without saying that a re-enactment is not, and cannot be, “the
real thing”; at best, it can initiate a process of reflection which then
might again turn into political activation. In this case, the performance
in the streets of Zagreb and Belgrade did not fully meet the criteria
necessary for a public space in the political sense to emerge: It did not
block the circulation of traffic; perhaps it slightly distracted it. No con­
flict, as much as I can say, did emerge from the performance, at least
no collectivizable conflict (whenever a real conflict occurs, it tends to
spread for some time as it can be collectivized, i.e. more and more peo-
ple start affiliating themselves with the Cause). The dancers, as much
as they remained individual dancers even while dancing together, did
not generate a collective, but rather a singular plural body (as we will
see in the next example, there is also the possibility of a more collec-
tivist dancing body). They acted “in concert”, as Arendt would have
put it, but they did not act as or within a political collective.16 For this
reason, the artists did not – and didn’t need to – develop a larger and
long-term strategy which, nevertheless, would be necessary to achieve
the goals a protest movement wishes to achieve. So, subtract all these
political dimensions from the performance (strategy, collectivity, con-
flict, and blockade), and what remains is pure embodiment: the bodily
re-enactment of a political event from the past which, as bodily re-
enactment pure and simple, is not political in itself because it lacks
the additional criteria necessary in order to meaningfully speak about
politics in the first place.17

15 Igor Sretenovic: “The Figuration of Resistance”, in East Side Story, Museum of

Contemporary Art, Belgrade 2008, p. 9.
16 Even though some dancers actually were part of the movement, but in this perfor-
mance they are, first and foremost, dancers, not protesters. In their role of artists they
acted, at best, in solidarity with a political collective and not as part of that collective.
17 Of course, in the usual sense of the term, “East Side Story” is a highly political
work. My argument should in no way be understood as a criticism of it. It does not
make “East Side Story” less critical, but it leaves it in the art world and does not speak
of “politics” where there is none. This is because my whole argument is basically
directed against the current inflation of the qualifier “political”. But not every work
of art has to be political in a precise sense. To be political should not necessarily
make a work better or worse from the perspective of the art field (provided “good”


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Pre-enacting protest: Public Movement’s “How long is now?”

Let us move to the second example in order to see what it takes for
an artistic intervention to actually make the passage into politics. The
double dimension of “dancing politics” through protest – choreogra-
phy and dance  – is reactivated in most performances of the Israeli
collective Public Movement, founded in 2006 by the dancer and chore-
ographer Dana Yahalomi and the visual artist Omer Krieger (and led
by Yahalomi alone since 2011). The name of the group refers, on the
one hand, to the ritualized choreographies of a nation state “public”
and, on the other, to the political or protest movements of a potential
counter-public – in other words: to state choreographies and to protest
choreographies. What is of importance is the fact that these choreog-
raphies will always be inscribed into the bodily knowledge of indi-
viduals. As Yahalomi puts it: “Politics exists within our bodies, as an
often dormant knowledge.”18 In their performances, these unconscious
incorporations of the state are very often re-assembled into dream-like
choreographic sequences.
For instance, in their performance “Also Thus!” in 2009, the group
staged a fictitious state ritual in front of the fascist architecture of the
Berlin Olympia stadium.
This ritual, which included mock violence and a car crash or maybe
terrorist attack against a car of the type used by German politicians,
ended with an Israeli folk dance and the audience joining in. In
this Public Movement performance, as in some others, a quasi-­Zionist
­occupation takes place of an anti-Jewish or anti-semitic historical
setting, a sort of over-writing which, nevertheless, leaves visible the
background. However, Public Movement do not take an explicit politi-
cal position, not even a Zionist one. Perhaps one should rather speak
about their deconstruction of Zionism as the dominant state choreog-
raphy of Israel. Like in the original Derridean sense, deconstruction
involves both an element of destruction and an element of (re-)con-
struction. With obvious reference to the constructive dimension, per-
formances of Public Movement have also been described by ­Yahalomi
as “pre-enactments”. They do not imitate an actual event in the past,
but engage in the paradoxical enterprise of re-staging an event that
has not yet occurred, for instance, a future state that will have imple-
mented the rituals pre-formed by Public Movement.

or “bad” should be valid criteria at all, which I doubt), it only makes it better or
worse from the perspective of the political field (where, correspondingly, its quality
as art will be of secondary importance).
18 Interview with Dana Yahalomo, Kaleidoscope (forthcoming)


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Fig. 2: Public Movement. Also Thus! Photo: Festival of Dialogue of Four Cultures
Lodz (2008).

Sometimes, these pre-formances, as we may call them, can assume

a disruptive rather than a ceremonial quality. In these cases, what is
announced by the intervention is not a future state, but, perhaps, a
future protest. In their 2006 guerrilla performance How long is now?,
the group blocked crossroads in Israeli cities by performing a circle
dance to a popular Israeli song from the 1970s, Od lo ahavti dai (the
same song that ended the Also Thus! ritual). After having blocked traf-
fic for 2 ½ minutes, the dancers disappear and traffic can continue cir-
culating. To understand this intervention, one has to know that Israeli
folkdance does not in the slightest emerge from an age old tradition.
Of course, round dances belong to the cultural heritage of the Mediter-
ranean region and south east Europe. Yet, modern Israeli folkdance
has its roots in the 1940s when the Israelis were forced to create a new,
synthetic culture for heterogeneous groups of immigrants. For this pur-
pose Israeli folkdance did not only integrate choreographic elements
of highly diverse traditions, it also became very much part of popular
music production. Every new Israeli pop hit is immediately outfitted
with a choreography which is then passed on in dancing classes. Thus,
folkdance in Israel has nothing to do with Brauchtum, as the appalling
German term goes, but is better described as an enormous multiplica-
tion of fashion dances.
Among these hundreds of songs, Od lo ahavti dai, with the accom-
panying choreography by Yankele Levy (which is relatively simple),
has proven to be one of the most popular ones. It is probably because


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every Israeli child learns the choreography in kindergarten that Public
Movement chose the song. In this sense, Israel’s state choreography
is expressed through communal dancing and registered by the bodily
knowledge of its citizens. Because it is universal (and individual)
knowledge, every passer-by can potentially join in and become part of
the circle. By using this dance in order to block the crossroad, a dance
symbolizing the communitarian closure of society (but also, of course,
the attempt to gain courage and solidarity within a fundamentally hos-
tile environment) is re-appropriated and used to disturb the public
order of this very society.

The passage towards politics

Most of the criteria developed above are thus met. How long is now? is
a collective and collectivizable action by which a public in the strong
sense is curved out of urban space. This is achieved through blocking
the circulation of traffic with dancing bodies. And yet, the passage to
politics in the strict sense does not occur. Without doubt, the irritation
produced by the event has the potential to remind passers-by of the
micropolitical inscription of state choreographies in their own individ-
ual bodies. Such re-activation of bodily knowledge can have something
political, but more in a critical or analytical sense than in the sense of
protest politics. And to the extent that it remains an art performance,
the meaning and the goal of the intervention can very well remain in
the dark for most of its witnesses. In fact, Public Movement explicitly
say that they do not adhere to the “for/against paradigm” – and this is
exactly the point where we realize that a decisive element is missing:
an actual conflict that would force everyone to position herself on this
or the other side of a political antagonism.
In summer 2011 such an antagonism broke out in Israel when tents
were being planted in the centre of Tel Aviv and other cities. Starting
with the call of a single student, social protests against high living and
housing expenses grew to the point where Israel witnessed the lar est
political demonstration in its history. In the course of the protests,
Public Movement took up their intervention and offered this format
to the protesters. Again and again dozens of activists would assemble
on different crossroads in order to block traffic for 2 ½ minutes to the
music of Od lo ahavti dai.
In so doing, they actualized a conflict much wider than simply a
clash with angry car drivers. Such a momentary clash referred to the
wider line of political conflict drawn by the social protesters all over
Israel. By offering the demonstrators a new and easily collectivizable


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Fig. 3: Public Movement. Tel Aviv-Jaffa, summer 2011 (during the social protest),
public movement members and the large public blocking the road with circle folk
dancing. Photo: Eyal Vexler.

protest format, the original guerilla performance was turned by Public

Movement from an artistic intervention into a political one. The latter
actualized what was only announced as a future possibility by the
former pre-enactment. Or, to put it differently, “How long is now?”,
danced by the protesters, was not an artistic re-enactment of a politi-
cal event, as Grubic’ East Side Story was. It was, inversely, a political
re-enactment of an artistic event.
Of course, this only became possible on the condition that a larger
antagonism emerged in society – which was not in the hands of Public
Movement. We should think of this antagonism as an “objective con-
dition” of protest, not as something that can be produced intentional-
ly.19 And yet, these “objective conditions” have to be met by activist
practices in order for a conflict to pass from the latent to the manifest.
If this worked out so well in the case of “How long is now?”, then
because the emancipatory potential of Zionist culture, created long ago
in the Kibbutzim and watered down to pop cultural folkdance, was re-

19 Everyone who ever tried to organize a protest knows that it is difficult, if not
impossible to predict whether it will work out and people will join in. Sometimes,
you organize a demonstration time and again, and nobody shows up. But then,
suddenly, the conditions change and the same effort can result in the most massive


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created within today’s street protest. And if people joined in, then they
did because an essential dimension of political acting was addressed:
the joyous experience resulting from the virtuosity of the performance
as such. As Arendt said: “Acting is fun.” In an interview with the Jeru­
salem Post, a member of Public Movement declared: “We’re going to do
some folk dancing, which, first of all, is really fun. And it creates some
automatic solidarity between people. Just standing in a circle, holding
hands, is the basic gesture of solidarity.”20 One should not underes-
timate these moments of joy present in demonstrating in solidarity.
Today’s forms of radical democratic protest could hardly do without
such joy – a joy that opposes the sad assumptions of a political reality
without alternative. It is in the dancing of the demonstrators that some
of the jouissance of embodied democratic action expresses itself.

20 “Dancing activists block Tel Aviv traffic”,



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Bojana Kunst

Working Out Contemporaneity

Dance and Post-Fordism

Two images of movement

I would like to start this essay with two personal images. At the
moment I have two homes, one in Ljubljana and another in Hamburg.
In Ljubljana, my window overlooks a small circular park beside an
old people’s home, where its residents can take daily walks along the
paths of a circular shape. Whenever I look at the park through my
window, I feel that something has changed in my perception; in the
loudness of the city, a movement is revealed that cannot be looked
at without a kinaesthetic feeling being triggered in the body. These
are not only walks where slowness appears, the slowness of a body
no longer capable of the continuous and invisible transition of the
city inhabitant, harmonised with the omnipresent rhythm. Instead of
walking and moving forward, the old people are actually trying to
avoid obstacles touching the street carefully with their steps. Their
walk would not be possible if they did not while they are walking at
the same time measure the relations in the space surrounding them
making sure to not be knocked down by a cyclist, a recreational runner
or a small child chasing after its dog. When I take a break in Hamburg,
my kitchen window looks into another window, which is the window
of a small dance school (with a funny name – dancealot) where people
can learn how to dance East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing. Every
evening, the lights are turned on in a small studio inside an old aban-
doned building where young and old dancers try to attain virtuosity in
swing dancing, attempting to move smoothly and learning the steps,
touching the floor with their steps carefully, as if there might be some
obstacle on the floor, and measuring the space they can take, in order
not to bump into each other.
These two images are the same and fundamentally different at the
same time. Both images are disclosing how movement is not only get-
ting from point A to point B. Movement is not a unity of quantita-
tive differences that can be endlessly multiplied, as Deleuze warned.1
Movement is not only a transient movement in space, but it should
also be understood as change, as quantitative differentiation. As an

1 Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism (New York: Zone Books, 1991).


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example Deleuze refers to the eminent philosophical parable of the
fearless runner Achilles. Despite his youth and strength, his move-
ments resemble those of the old people in the park, who represent
the turtle in this parable. It is not about equal speed, but about an
equal mode of duration. Achilles’ movements can be quantitatively
divided into steps; with every step, however, the movement changes
in a qualitative manner. Deleuze says: “What seems from the outside
to be a numerical part, a component of the run, turns out to be, expe-
rienced from the inside, an obstacle avoided.”2 The inner perception
of movement is therefore quantitative and enables change, precisely
because movement concerns us from the outside. Movement is a rela-
tion. It constantly dispossesses and changes us by means of obstacles
and materiality that we cannot not relate to if we wish to move. And
this might be the most interesting observation about the old people
taking walks: the inner experience of movement as qualitative change
imprints itself continuously on the surface of the body. Paradoxically,
when this happens and we are actually perceiving the movement as
change, the body seems to be incapable of moving, as it would be
totally drowned in the precarious slowness of avoiding the obstacle.

You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it,

but you’re always falling.
With each step you fall forward slightly.
And then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over, you’re falling.
And then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling
at the same time.3

The body doesn’t only move, but it also hesitates. With the walk it
takes, it doesn’t only pass by or make a transit, but it lasts, it endures
The same conclusion could be also drawn from the people dancing
in the dance school in Hamburg. There dancers are also stumbling,
they are slow and precarious, they hesitate a lot; however, with each
step, they leave less and less visible imprints of their hesitation on
their bodies. These dancers are internalizing the relational component
of the movement in a precise way, because only thus does it become
possible to make their movement continuous and smooth. If they want
to enjoy dancing smoothly, they have to rehearse and train in order to

2 Ibid., p. 48.
3 Laurie Anderson, Big Science, Warner Bross Records, 1982.


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make the qualitative aspect of movement invisible. It is necessary to
hide the qualitative change deeply in their virtuosity: only then can the
movement autonomously take over and become an endless quantita-
tive change of steps, directions and dominations over space and time.
However, even if both the images I described above are disclosing
movement full of clumsiness, stumbling, alertness, and care in such
a way as to reveal the relational component of movement, these two
images could, at the same time, not be more different. The swing danc-
ing people can be described as the representation of the kinetic subject
of Western modernity (or at least they were trying to become one), still
a bit clumsy but efficiently becoming skilled in their spinning around
and traversing the space. Their learning can be seen as a light version
of subjecting themselves to the disciplinary techniques through which,
in the history of contemporary dance, interiorization of movement can
be attained. The result is the illusionary skill that movement springs
entirely from the body which is traversing the space, a skill so powerful
in Western history that, with its power, as Lepecki observes, it emptied
the space for the Western subject and its possessive inner freedom of
continuous movement.4 However, in their attempts to learn the dance,
there is a lot of enjoyment, not only in the learning process, but also a
kind of future enjoyment; the joy that has yet to come, when they will
have mastered the dance. Enjoyment can be considered to be a sub-
versive potential, because it always comes back even in the middle of
the most disciplinary techniques and mocks the institution that trains
the every day body to transform it into that of the dancer. Slovenian
philosopher Jelica Šumić Riha wrote that dance is always surpassing
the phantasm of the institution which is training the body to become so
skilled as to become the other. In her opinion, dance is always some-
how mocking this phantasm, even when it does not have a distance
towards it and it actually wants to support it. She argues that dance,
when being a stage for the institutional phantasm, is at the same time
playing with and disclosing what this phantasm is actually covering: a
specific way of subversive enjoyment which should be supporting the
given social order.5
In the image of the old people taking their daily walks the insecu-
rity and alertness of the walking bodies is deeply grounded in the
necessary awareness for someone who cannot any longer move with

4 Andre Lepecki, Exhausting Dance, Performance and Politics of Movement (New

York, London: Routledge, 2006).
5 Jelica Šumić-Riha, “The diasporic dance of body enjoyment: slain flesh / metamor-
phosing body”, in: Sue Golding (ed.), The Eight Technologies of Otherness (London:
Routledge, 1997), pp. 225–235.


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the city that movement is a constant qualitative change, a continuous
rearrangement and replacement of the body in relation to the other
forces and trajectories of life. Carefulness springs not only from the
care for the body and its injuries, but it is the care of the world by
which the body is being moved. It springs from the awareness that
movement has to be grasped as belonging to other people’s movement,
things, objects, worlds, as much as to the consciousness of the one
who moves. Therefore, the trajectory of these bodies cannot happen in
an empty space, but is always deeply embedded in the potentiality of
the one who moves with being moved by the world at the same time.
Since the trajectory of these moving bodies is always deeply embedded
in the potentiality of being moved by the world, they cannot make their
trajectories in an empty space.
My observations on walking can be related to the visibility of every-
day movement, which in the second half of the 20th century gained
a strong political potential when walking entered the field of dance.
What bodies do in daily life (how do they walk, move, stand, stop,
sit etc.) opens an insight into the complex relationality between the
movement of bodies and the materiality of the world. Situated within
the world a body is not only a trajectory in space, but a heterogeneous
composite of forces, tightly intertwined with other forces of life. One
of the main consequences of the exploration of everyday movement in
dance was the acknowledgement that movement does not consist in
an endless quantification and division. Segmenting and enumerating
movement always served as the way to produce the other body, i.e.
the perfect kinetic subject in the service of the state, the factory or the
company. Movement here is closely related to qualitative change and
alteration, to the ways in which bodies are being moved and how they
move within the world/interact with the world. Usually, the political
potential of the discovery of everyday movement is described as a
democratisation of movement (in the sense that everybody can do it,
everybody can dance it). However, the consequences of the discov-
ery of everyday movement are more complex and don’t necessarily
have emancipatory power, as is mostly assumed when we talk about
everyday movement in connection to performances. Nevertheless, if
the walking bodies want to enjoy walking, it is first of all necessary to
slow down and become attentive, since the space is full of movement
which moves us: only in that way it is possible to embrace the change
that is happening.


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The dance and the walk: two politics of dance

From the break at my kitchen window, I will now make a rather

strange jump, a jump into the analysis of contemporary production.
My hypothesis here is that the human capability to move stands at the
centre of the contemporary exploration of human forces and is one
of the most explored and appropriated human qualities when think-
ing about contemporary production. In one of his texts, Paolo Virno
states that, in contemporary capitalism, fundamental abilities of the
human being come to the foreground. Contemporary production con-
sists of sharing linguistic and cognitive habits, and it is this affective
and intellectual exchange of knowledge that constitutes Post-Fordist
labour production. “All the workers enter into the production as much
as they are speaking-thinking. This has nothing to do, mind you, with
‘professionality’ or with the ancient concepts of ‘skill’ or ‘craftsman-
ship’: to speak / to think are generic habits of the human animal, the
opposite of any sort of specialization.”6 Other qualities that are usu-
ally connected with Post-Fordism, like the disappearance of the dif-
ference between work and non-work, the appearance of the cognitive
proletariat, the abstraction of language and the exploration of human
potentiality as such, are consequences of that shift of the generic quali-
ties of the human being to the centre of production. At the forefront
of Post-Fordist production are the generic habits of the human animal:
language, thought, self-reflection and the ability to learn. Or to put it
differently, in the extreme phase of contemporary capitalism, human
potentiality stands at the centre of production. The constant actualisa-
tion of human potentiality is subjecting forces of life to a continuous
appropriation by contemporary biopower and capital.
However, there exists another generic quality of the human being that
is not mentioned by Virno’s analysis of the cognitive aspects of Post-
Fordism. It is nonetheless deeply inscribed in the potency of a human
being: namely movement. When I talk of movement as a generic qual-
ity of a human being, I especially think about movement as a continu-
ous becoming and alteration, as a qualitative multiplicity and not as a
constant quantitative division which goes on endlessly in an already
totalised space. Isn’t movement today one of the generic qualities of
the human being standing at the forefront of contemporary produc-
tion? Doesn’t this generic quality of human movement as alteration go
together with the excess of collaboration (which is not only significant
for artistic practice) in the recent years? Today human labour is closely

6 Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude (Los Angeles, New York: Semiotext(e),
2004), p. 41.


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connected to flexibility and mobility. The potential of human beings
constantly on the move is highly explored as a productive human qual-
ity. It does not only imply moving territorially, but also being on the
move between many projects, flexible jobs, and moving between many
disembodiments. Movement places people into the present. It is only
when they move that people can actually become visible in the pres-
ent where they constantly add to the contemporary flow of money,
capital, and signs. Interestingly enough, this development produces its
own backside exactly in the same work community that enables con-
temporary mobility. More and more non-collaborative or non-belonging
people or groups move in the invisible (secret?) and deadly channels of
illegality, poverty, invisibility and escape. It seems that there is some-
thing in our daily rhythm and in the way we experience this sharing of
language and thought, which puts us into a state of constant mobility
and precariousness where nothing is stable but the deadline of work-
ing together and where space is generated as a consequence of mobil-
ity. So, isn’t the exploitation of the human capability to move one of
the basic conditions of contemporary capitalism, where subjectivities
have to hurriedly and continuously work out to stay fit for the demands
of contemporary mobility and radical experimentation with time? And
isn’t the “massive accumulation and proliferation of apparatuses of
communication” (which, according to Agamben, defines the extreme
phase of capitalist development)7 assigned to produce even greater
mobility and quantitative differentiation of synchronous moving con-
stantly producing subjectivities with many possibilities?
To answer these questions in a proper way, we first need to make
a small but important distinction between movement experimenta-
tion in the first half of the 20th century and the role of movement in
today’s excessive phase of capitalism.8 It is well known that move-
ment experiments were an important part of the Fordistic production
and social distribution of bodies in the industrial phase of capitalism.
However, they had a different character than the present exploration
of the human capability to move. Scientific management theories were,
for example, focused on the perfect synchronisation of the body with
the machine, which demanded a radical and absolute interiorization of
movement in the body. Only in that way could the gesture of the body

7 Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? (Stanford: Stanford University Press,

8 I write more about that comparison in Bojana Kunst, “Dance and Work: The
Aesthetic and Political Potential of Dance”, Emerging Bodies, The Performance of
Worldmaking in Dance and Choreography, eds. Gabriele Klein and Sandra Noeth
(Bielefeld: Transcript, 2011).


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be divided from the experience and endlessly repeated; the working
gesture, we could say, could be separated from the experience of work.
Usually, the bodies of industrial workers are described as machines,
and their automatic work is described as alienated – very often also
mocked as a dance in unison. However, behind such alienation stands
the interiorization of movement as something which should belong so
deeply to the body that the body of the worker is foreign to the one
who works with it. Only when the movement is radically interiorized
does the body became foreign, the other body which can be put in
the service of the state or the factory. Here we don’t deal with the
alienation of the movement from the body, but with the radical interi-
orization of the movement in the body, so that the body has become a
space of constant quantitative division. Only in that way can a spectral
and efficient working gesture appear and movement is not experienced
as alteration. It is no wonder that Fordistic production was often rep-
resented as dancing together, a corps du ballet. And it does not come
as a surprise that many popular representations of the assembly line
mocked this interiorization of movement within the worker like Charlie
Chaplin did in Modern Times. These mocking and incapable workers
destroyed the whole production process because they were too dreamy
to be efficient, too clumsy to work well, which actually also means that
they experienced movement as change. Instead of moving smoothly,
they reacted to the obstacles and to the materiality of the machine,
their non-controlled gestures springing from their relation outside of
the body: they were being moved by the world. However, there is a
difference between the interiorization of movement in dance and the
Fordistic approach to movement, because at the end, workers cannot
dance, but they have to work. Scientific management was therefore
successful in interiorizing movement. However, it also tried to abolish
any extra enjoyment which could mock the institution by exposing
its own phantasm: enjoyment was radically expelled from the body.
That’s why at the beginning of the 20th century modern dance pioneers
were re-evaluating the dynamic between the outside and inside of the
body. They were searching for another kind of enjoyment that was
connected to the autonomous aesthetic language of the body freeing
itself from under the institutional and disciplinary grip. However, these
attempts took place outside the factory. The modern dancers at the
time were searching for the freedom in the body that belongs more
to leisure than to work. That has several consequences which will be
only briefly mentioned here. First the enjoyment of working bodies
was reproduced in another form of capitalistic work, i.e. entertain-
ment and spectacle; for example with the dancing bodies of the Tiller


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Girls or the dancing composites of Busby Berkeley.9 Second, the dance
reappears in the massive spectacles of ‘natural bodies’, where move-
ment is interiorized as the (only) nature of the human body, so that
the healthy and powerful mover can be part of the naturalised masses
of totalitarian systems. Third, a discovery of kinetic universality was
part of the relation between inside and outside of the body, especially
in the works of American choreographers like Martha Graham. Fierce
aesthetic and political differences at the beginning of the 20th century
have to be connected to these processes of radical interiorization of
movement on many different levels; among them also the approaches
of the contemporary dance pioneers. Dance artists (mostly women)
wanted to liberate movement and liberate bodily expression as a force
from the inner-side of the body. In these reforms human subjectivity
became an ultimate source of movement, a source so strong that it
could abstract its own body into the autonomous aesthetic field. In this
case, we deal with the disclosure of inner freedom as a specific kinetic
abstraction which can then be also connected to the fact, that in the
conceptualisation of movement by dance reformers, this freedom was
the freedom of time without work, i.e. the discovery of the potentiality
of leisure time as opposed to the dull routine of work movement.

Exploitation of movement

In 2009 Natalie Bookchin did a video installation Mass Ornament in

which she reflected the role of mass ornament today.10 In the beginning
of the 20th century mass ornament functioned as the aesthetic reflex
of the rationality of the prevailing economic system which I analysed
as the rationality that heavily interiorized movement so that the body
could effectively produce. At the same time this form also disclosed an
enjoyment beside (or, perhaps, despite of) the system (coming, how-
ever, from entertainment, not from the workers). So, what could be the
mass ornament of today? This question inspired Bookchin’s work, in
which she collected hundreds of You Tube videos of people showing
themselves dancing. Out of these videos she composed a synchronous
choreography. Everybody is dancing alone in his or her own room,
usually with a television recording on in the background where the
same dance is performed. Bookchin choreographed and composed the

9 Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament, Weimar Essays (Harvard: Harvard

University Press, 2005).
10 Natalie Bookchin, Mass Ornament, 2009,, Access:
14. April 2012.


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recordings according to the similar moves, gestures, and dances the
private dancers made. The result is a peculiar choreographic distribu-
tion of the bodies which are dancing the same dance or dancing in
the same way, yet, always alone, private, but nevertheless connected
and public. Such choreographic distribution could easily be achieved
by the computer programme itself (if the computer programme would
have the right parameters like ‘find people dancing on the song of Sha-
kira’, ‘find people turning their head around in the living room’ etc.).
Such an automatic selection and combination is actually being done
regularly in the observation centres where recordings of the security
cameras are analysed. In comparison to the universal rationality of the
Fordistic production, Bookchin’s work creates an ornament of isolated
private rooms and a showing off of bodies exposed in their differ-
ence, which at the same time is a difference of a radical sameness: a
movement where change is totally spectral and replaced by a constant
quantitative division of differences of those who are all trying to learn
the same popular dances and show the same virtuosity.
The exploitation of the human capability to move does not have
the same ideological constellation today that it had in the disciplinary
societies where movement was so deeply interiorized that the body
became a kinetic machine, a small but smoothly operating cog in the
overwhelming social machine. The role of the movement in Post-Ford-
ism has to be analysed in connection to the exploration of everyday
movement and of ‘what the bodies usually do’, i.e. how they move
with the world. This is not only speeding up and erasing the ‘onto-
logical slowness’ and transformative potential of bodies, but bringing
about a radical incongruity among the movable ones and the ones who
are expelled to eternal stillness. If we claim that movement stands at
the centre of production and that it is exploited as human potential-
ity, then this also implies that change or alteration today is radically
abstracted from the materiality of the world and of the body. Change
is turned into the spectral flexibility of accelerated contemporary sub-
jectivity. Movement in that way enables freedom as temporal enslave-
ment. Through the appropriation of movement, we can say “productive
powers shade into powers of existence.”11 What is actually grounding
the immateriality of contemporary work, its “spatial” independence,
is exactly the exploration or, even better, exhaustion of that generic
human force, i.e. the appropriation of movement as one of the forces of
life. This centrality of movement in Post-Fordistic production has also

11 Brian Massumi, ‘The Future Birth of the Affective Fact’, Conference Proceedings:
Genealogies of Biopolitics,,
Access: 5 December 2011.


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been overlooked when philosophers conceptualised the cognitive pro-
letariat as a new force in the political battle against forces of capital, as
a possibility for a new political movement. The problem is that such a
cognitive proletariat is actually highly disembodied, already colonised
through the temporality of accelerated and quantitative movement, or
as Franco Birardi Bifo writes: cognitarians still have to search for the
body.12 Human capability to move has to find forms of resistance to the
continuous temporal capture, acceleration, and effective rhythms of
contemporary production, and open up new embodied possibilities for
the movement of the many. In that sense the emphasis is not so much
on the exploration of an autonomous body or on the possibilities of
the individual embodiment as in modernism. What needs to be empha-
sised instead are the common and general characteristics of movement
such as flexibility, precariousness, instability, intensity, rhythms, and
temporality which are belonging to contemporary production.
In an interview, Paolo Virno describes how Post-Fordistic workers
get their skills:

The qualities of a post-Fordistic worker are never qualities which would

require skill regarding professional expertise or technical requirements.
On the contrary, what’s required is the ability to anticipate unexpected
opportunities and coincidences, to seize chances that present themselves,
to move with the world. These are not skills people learn at the workplace.
Nowadays, workers learn such required abilities by living in a big city,
by gaining aesthetic experiences, having social relationships, creating

To move with the world (and with this movement attaining skills,
knowledge, aesthetic experience and developing collaborative net-
works) here describes specific skills that are, of course, connected with
cognitive work. However, to move with the world can also be under-
stood as a specific exploitation of the human capabilities of movement.
The relational aspect of movement today stands in the centre of exploi-
tation. Movement of the body is therefore exteriorised. It is no longer
inhabiting the interiority of the body as in 20th century Fordism, where
exactly through the interiorisation of the movement it was possible
to be a part of the bigger social machine. Subjectivities are flexible
because their bodies are organised through constant protocols of accel-

12 Franco Berardi Bifo, Cognitarian Subjectivation, copyright E-Flux 2010, http://, Access: 14 November 2011.
13 Paolo Virno, “The Dismeasure of Art”, Open, A Precarious Existence, no. 17,
2009,, Access: 14 November 2011.


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eration and organisation of everyday and common movement. This
kind of distribution enables experimentation with temporality where
change is accelerated and spectralised. There is no time for hesita-
tion when you ‘move with the world’. The result is the typical form
of contemporary subjectivation or, rather, desubjectivation, which is
confronted with the brutal intensification of the processes of individu-
ation, where old forms of life become obsolete even before we are able
to absorb them. One is therefore compelled to live in a state of constant
tension on the verge of exasperation. Such brutal intensification of
forms of individuation would not be possible without exteriorization of
movement where the relational aspect of movement is being continu-
ously manipulated and regulated by the protocols of the contemporary
control society. The potential for change is transferred into the spectral
flexibility without effect. As a result, human subjectivity becomes a
source for many possibilities without any influence on the real.
There is something deeply choreographic about today’s social
machine which discloses its own compositions through constant
organisation of smoothness, acceleration, non-disturbance, and the
illusion that movement has nothing to do with disturbance. The mate-
rial for this kind of social choreography belongs to that which the
bodies can do: their everyday mobility and numerous movements
through openings and closing which are today heavily controlled and
regulated. One of the basic illusions of the contemporary subject is
that we only move because of our inner feeling of time. This illu-
sion serves as a basis for constantly subduing contemporary subjectiv-
ity to numerous apparatuses which promise even greater mobility to
defeat our ontological slowness. However, the time of the subject is
not a homogeneous time projecting into the future, i.e. a possibility
that constantly needs to be realised. Rather, it is constantly avoiding
obstacles, involuntary movement, a slowness in which time is running
out. Contemporary dance therefore is a political field where proposals
inside the human capability to move can be explored and connected
to the broader social and political reality. In this sense it has to bring
together two politics of dance of the 20th century which were intention-
ally introduced with simple images at the beginning of my text: a dance
and a walk. Subversive enjoyment comes from the distance that the
dancing body has towards the institutional mechanisms of the exteri-
orisation of movement, exactly because, in the end, it can dance. In
this sense the capability to move can resist the economical and social
organisation of the relational aspect of movement and open up other
embodied ways of moving together, continuously creating flows of dis-
turbances and affective persistences. With its different rhythms it can
create tensions and put pressures on the apparently smooth protocols


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of contemporary capitalistic world. Today this need for the moving
body can be very well observed in the changed strategies of political
protestors such as the ‘Occupy’ movements, which transformed from
disembodied networks and global movements to localised, but nev-
ertheless connected forms of temporal persistence and endurance in
places for ever engaged in the search for new political embodiments.
That is why this enjoyment can be radically disruptive in a political
way even if it belongs to the quantitative organisation and distribution
of bodies. However, it is exactly this enjoyment that has to be con-
nected to the capacity of everyday movement to induce change, to the
ways of how to think of movement as a qualitative disturbance, a con-
stant alteration of the forces of life, temporal dynamics and materiality
of space. This enjoyment springing from the fact that the movement
can induce change can work as an important point of differentiation
between change that is spectral and change that directly affects the
body and its relations to the world.


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2. The Politics of Sense

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Erin Manning and Brian Massumi

Coming Alive in a World of Texture

For Neurodiversity

The notion of existence involves the notion of an environment

of existences and of types of existences. Any one instance of
existence involves other existences, connected with it and yet
beyond it. This notion of the environment introduces the
notion of the ‘more and less’, and of multiplicity.1 (Whitehead)

More and Less (Multiplicity)

“There was very little difference in meaning,” says autist Daina Kru-
mins, “between the children next to the lake that I was playing with and
the turtle sitting on the log. It seems,” she continues, “that when most
people think of something being alive they really mean, human.”2

1 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1938), p. 9
2 Quoted in Jean Kearns Miller, Women From Another Planet (Bloomington: 1st
Books, 2003), pp. 23–89. While we focus here on autists who would be classified
in the so-called low-functioning spectrum of autism, which is itself a spectrum, we
chose to highlight autists such as Krumins (and later Corwin), both of whom would
likely fall into the category of “aspergers” or “high-functioning” autism. The point
we are trying to emphasize is that all spectrums are neurodiverse  – both that of
the neuro-typical and that of the autist – and that within the autism spectrum there
stands out a particular modality of perception. As others within the autism activist
community have pointed out, the labellings that have become commonplace in
autism in many cases only serve to re-sedimentize the assumptions of the neurotypi-
cal (or able-ist) community. See, for instance, Amanda Baggs’s blog post entitled
Aspie Supremacy Can Kill: “I know that to many aspie supremacists it doesn’t feel
like that’s what they’re doing. It feels like they are just stating common sense, that
aspies have more valuable skills, more logic, less dysfunction, whatever, than other
autistics. But that’s because having a bit of relative privilege renders them unaware
of the full consequences of their actions. They don’t realize that they have things
backwards — the more devalued you are, the more you need equality, the more you
need to be considered another important part of human diversity, etc. Not the less.
And ‘less’ is what aspie supremacy ends up meaning to those of us who (even when
we have some very valued skills in a few areas) are more vulnerable to devaluation
and all of it’s effects. Including the lethal ones.” – http://ballastexistenz.autistics.
org/?p=611, Access: 3.7.2010.


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What is it we really mean, when we say human? According to autism
activist Amanda Baggs, we certainly don’t mean “autistic.”3 We mean
neurotypical, we mean expressing oneself predominantly in spoken
language, and most of all, we mean immediately focused on humans
to the detriment of other elements in the environment.4 “Most people
attend to human voices above all else.” (Krumins)

“I hear the rocks and the trees.” (MM)5

For autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, to hear the rocks and the
trees on an equal footing with the voices of children is a sign of what
he calls mindblindness. He defines mindblindness as an “inability to
develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human.” To
have mindblindness, he says, is to lack empathy. It is to be generally
unrelational. He says that this is what defines autists.6

Yet from the autist, we hear neither a rejection of the human, nor
a turning away from relation. What we hear is an engagement with
the more-than-human: “I attend to everything the same way with no
discrimination, so that the caw of the crow in the tree is as clear and
important as the voice of the person I’m walking with.” (Krumins) And
an engagment with a more textured relating: “My world is organized
around textures. […] All emotions, perceptions, my whole world […]
[has] been influenced by textures.”7 (Krumins)

To experience the texture of the world without discrimination is not indif-

ference. Texture is patterned, full of contrast and movement, gradients
and transitions. It is complex and differentiated. To attend to everything
the same way is not an inattention to life. It is to pay equal attention

3 Amanda Baggs, Blog Entry,, Access:

4 These same concerns open Erin Manning’s essay on autism entitled “An Ethics
of Language in the Making” in Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance
(Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming 2013).
5 Quoted in Miller, Women from Another Planet, p. 54.
6 Mindblindness is a term used to describe the inability to be aware of what is in
the mind of another human. It is associated to a lack of empathy determined by the
perceived inability to put oneself in another’s place. Simon Baron-Cohen was the
first person to use the term mindblindness to help understand some of the problems
encountered by people with autism and Asperger syndrome. – See Simon Baron-
Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Massachusetts:
MIT Press, 1997).
7 Quoted in Miller, Women from Another Planet, p. 86 f.


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to the full range of life’s texturing complexity, with an entranced and
unhierarchized commitment to the way in which the organic and the
inorganic, colour, sound, smell, and rhythm, perception and emotion,
intensely interweave into the aroundness of a textured world, alive with
difference.8 It is to experience the fullness of a dance of attention. For
all the challenges of autism, this is not without joy.

“Everything [is] somewhat alive to me.” (Krumins)

“Happiness to me was the immediateness of the environment.”9


A dance of attention is the holding pattern of an immersive, almost

unidentifiable set of forces that modulate the event in the immediate-
ness of its coming to expression. Attention not to, but with and toward,
in and around. Undecomposably.

“All the time shadows had to borrow the colors of the objects on which
they would fall,” writes autist and poet Tito Mukhopadhyay. “And they
colored all objects in one universal color. That color is the color of a
shadow, which is a darker color on the borrowed color.”10 A coloured
shadowing: an intertwining of fields of emergent experience not yet
defined as this or that. Not defined as this or that, yet their qualities
already interact. The fields, in their immediacy, play off each other,
lending their qualities to each other, composing a single field of mutual
action, of co-fusion and changing contrast: co-motion. An immediate
commotion of qualitative texturing. A generative holding pattern already
moving qualitatively toward an experience in the making. Coloured
shadow has emerged: a quality belonging to the compositional field.
Not to its elements, but to the immediacy of their mutual action.

The emergence continues. “I could now imagine how a shadow could

silence the interaction between other colors if those colors happened
to fall in the territory of its silence.” A hiatus forms in the commotion,
made of the same interacting qualities as the commotion. “I could see

8 See Ralph Savarese on the concept of aroundness in autism, particularly in regard

to the poetry of Tito Mukhopadhyay in his forthcoming A Dispute with Nouns, or
Adventures in Radical Relationality: Autism, Poetry, and the Sensing Body.
9 Quoted in Portia Iverson, Strange Son: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to
Unlock the Hidden World of Autism (London: Riverhead Books, 2006), p. 104.
10 Tito Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move?: Inside My Autistic
Mind (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008), p. 21.


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the night jasmines wet with morning dew, lit with fresh sunshine, try-
ing to form a story with their jasmine-petal smell. I would see the story
spread in the air.”11 A new quality, a fragrance, arrives in the hiatus. A
flowering dances to attention as the event of this ingression. Jasmine
gathers the play of colour and shadow around itself, transmuted into
an interplay of moisture and light. Light and moisture, in co-motion
with a smell. The fragrance of jasmine, in its interplay with moisture
and light, takes the relay from coloured shadow as the predominant
quality of the compositional field as a whole. This relay brings the
field to the verge of determinate expression. In the field’s perfusion
by smell, a story is trying to form. The field is moving through its
perfusion toward a recounting of itself. It is striving to be taken into
account.12 The flower has appeared as a function of this striving. It is
not a discrete object. The field of immediate experience is not com-

11 Mukhopadyay, How Can I Talk, p. 21 f.

12 The concept of taking account is from Whitehead. It is one of the concepts
through which he extends a perceptual mode of operation (prehension) to all things,
independent of human perception. The notion of “taking account” indicates that
things (of whatever nature – he mentions “mud” and “evil”) “are essentially refer-
ent beyond themselves.” By referent he means co-implicated in a process of mutual
becoming exemplifying “forms of process,” understood as modes of existence which
call upon each other “essentially,” as an expression of their own nature. Each kind
of thing must be conceived as a form of process. The “realm of forms,” Whitehead
writes, is not an empty realm of pure abstraction, devoid of dirt and passage. It “is
the realm of potentiality, and the very notion of ‘potentiality’ has an external mean-
ing. It refers to life and motion. It refers to inclusion and exclusion. […] Phrasing
this statement more generally – it refers to appetition. It refers to the development
of actuality, which realizes form and is yet more than form … To be real is not to
be self-sustaining. […] Modes of reality require each other … [they] express their
mutual relevance to each other. […] each type expressing some mode of composi-
tion.” – Whitehead, Modes of Thought, p. 94 ff. When we refer to the flower striving
to be taken account of (or, later in this essay, the pen “asking” to be chosen from
the field), we are referring to Whitehead’s theory of the “essential reference” of each
thing to others beyond themselves, as exhibiting an activity of appetition that is in
and of things (defined in terms of processual potential). This striving for expres-
sion of things as such is in no way meant to be taken as a metaphor. Although this
striving is independent of human perception, it is soliciting of human perception
wherever human perception is active in the field. What distinguishes this approach
from recent object-oriented approaches is it gives primacy to activity and potential,
deriving the status of the “object” from a playing out of the “forms of process”
through which they tend toward determinate expression. The object, for Whitehead,
marks a phase-shift in process. It is understood more as an ontogenetic role than an
ontological category. For Whitehead, object refers to a particular role in the coming
to determinate expression of potential, occurring at a particular turning-point in its
playing out. For prehension as an uncognitive taking account, see A. N. Whitehead,
Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1925), p. 69 f.


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posed of objects. The flower is the relational conduit for a field-wide
tendency to expression. It might be called an objectile, rather than a
fully bloomed object: a bud of an object. The field composes buds of
objects, as a function of its appetition for expression.

The dance of attention evoked here by Mukhopadhyay is the atten-

tiveness in the environment of a prearticulate expressibility tending
toward a determinate expression yet to come. Caught in the middling
of this event, Mukhopadhyay is not the maker of the scene. He attends
to its dance, co-composing with it. “I would see that the moment I put
my shadow above the flowers, the story would immediately stop form-
ing.” The moment he overshadows the field, imposing his presence on
it, its activity stops. Mukhopadhyay must remain co-present. Flower,
shadow, story field-dance to attention, in an indetermination of a com-
ing to be determined, at the very boundary between experiencing and
imagining, in the moment, yet untold.

“My boundary between imagining and experiencing something was a

very delicate one. Perhaps it still is. So many times I still need to cross-
check with Mother, or someone who can understand my voice now,
whether an incident really happened around my body or presence.”13
Presence with, in and around a budding field-becoming, in patient
attentiveness toward what the field wants. Uncertainty in the around-
ness: where does the body begin and end? Where is the relay between
imagination and experience? The coming to further expression of the
field in conversation, for cross-checking, moves the center of gravity
of the experience into another field, that of language. But this is poetic
language, not strictly fact-seeking – a language for story, a language
that holds onto the tensile oscillation of imagining and experiencing,
that composes with the threshold of expressibility that was already
active in the field, tuning to expression where there is not yet either a
fully bloomed object nor a fully flowered subject – only the intensely
experiencing-imagining bud of a qualitative becoming toward making
sense in language.

A dance of attention is attentiveness not of the human to the environ-

ment, but attentiveness of the environment to its own flowering, at the
very limit where experience and imagination, immediacy and cross-
checking, overlap.14 The making-felt of a co-compositional force that

13 Mukhopadyay, How Can I Talk, p. 21 f.

14 We develop the notion of cross-checking from William James’s “ambulatory”
theory of truth, according to which “truth” is less a self-founding abstraction than


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does not yet seek to distinguish between human and nonhuman, sub-
ject and object, emphasizing instead an immediacy of mutual action,
an associated milieu of their emergent relation.

This co-compositional engagement with the associated milieu of emer-

gent relation is an environmental mode of awareness. It is a mode of
existence integral, for autists, to all aspects of experience. They do not
bemoan this modality of awareness as a deficit, but affirm it as a mode
of existence intertwined tendentially with other modes of existence,
such as those, more human by the neurotypical definition, that are
centered on language.15Autism activist Jim Sinclair writes:

Autism isn’t something a person has, or a ‘shell’ that a person is trapped

inside. There’s no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way
of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, percep-
tion, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not
possible to separate the autism from the person – and if it were possible, the
person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with.16

Persons come in many modes. And persons become. Autistic percep-

tion dances attention, affirming the interconnectedness of modes of
existence, foregrounding the relationality at the heart of perception,
emphasizing how experience unfolds through the matrix of qualitative
fields of overlap and emphasis already immediately moving toward
expression in a dynamic field of becoming alive with co-composition.
For autists, language comes late, and it is this that perhaps marks most
starkly their difference from neurotypicals. Neurotypical experience

an implicit recipe for finding the way back again to a specific “terminus” that can
be shared by different bodies, who may seal their sharing of this reaccess potential
with a demonstrative pointing-to acknowledged by both. See the development of
the example of the walk to Union Hall upon which the argument of “A World of
Pure Experience Revolves”, Essays in Radical Empiricism (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1996). See also the “The Thing and Its Relations” in the same
volume, and Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1978).
15 It is important to specify that there is no homogeneity of autism. We do not want
to suggest that all autists are joined in their perspective on the condition – certainly
being autistic is a significant challenge in the multi-sensorial, fast-paced culture we
find in most parts of the world today. The point we wish to make is that autism is
also a gift – perceptually, experientially, intellectually. The challenge for those all
along the spectrum of neurodiversity – especially those toward the neurotypical end
of the spectrum – is to meet difference at least halfway.
16 Jim Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn for Us”, Our Voice (Autism Network International
Newsletter), vol. 1, no. 3 (1993).


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tends immediately to align to the beyond of the associated milieu of
relation, to an ulterior phase in which the flower stands alone, a soli-
tary object separate from its shadow-stories. The separating out of the
object backgrounds the intrinsic relationality of the field’s coming to
expression, clearing the stage for an overshadowing human subject to
cast his presence in its place, in order to take personal credit for the
field’s environmentally emergent accounting for itself.

Fielding and Affordance

“This notion of the environment,” said Whitehead, “introduces the

notion of the ‘more and less,’ and of multiplicity.”17 The idea is not
simply to turn the tables, and say that neurotypicals suffer from envi-
ronment-blindness owing to their focus on the human, and on the
human-centric use-value that the objectiles active in the environment
may be cast for. Neurotypicals also have environmental awareness,
more and less: more peripheralized, less often attended to in its own
right. Conversely, even most so-called low-functioning autists are not
without language, as the quotes in the previous section show, even
though many are without spoken language. “Not being able to speak
is not the same as not having anything to say,” reads one of the slo-
gans of the Autistic Liberation Front.18 Despite their initial focus on
the qualitative relationality of emergent environments, autists are also
capable, more and less depending on many factors, of perceiving objec­
tively. By objectively we mean in a mode in which focalized impacts,
and their eventual uses and recountings in language, single themselves
out as particular affordances from the fielding of the environment. We
call this the mode of entrainment.19

17 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1968/1938),
p. 7
18 Slogan from a t-shirt created by the Autistic Liberation Front, in “It’s Not a Disease,
It’s a Way of Life,” Emine Saner,, Access: 8.7.2007.
19 The term “entrainment” is adapted from Albert Michotte, who uses it in his
analysis of the direct perception of causal relation. See Georges Thinès, Alan ­Costall,
George Butterworth, eds., Experimental Phenomenology of Perception (Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991). We also mean it as a reference to Whitehead’s own
concept for the direct perception of causal relation, which he terms “causal effi-
cacy.” Causal efficacy refers to the sense that experience is “heavy with the contact
of things gone by [referring to the immediate past, on the order of fractions of
a ­second], which lay their grip on our immediate selves.” In its purest form, it
is “vague, haunting, unmanageable.” In our reading, this sense of “unseen effec-
tive presences in the dark” is a limit case, because causal efficacy as a mode of


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Entrainment in relation to Mukhopadhyay’s flower-field would have
immediately placed the flowering within an efficient mode such as
“picking” or “smelling.” That Mukhopadhyay’s experience is less of
the flower itself than of the field of flowering and shadowing and story-
ing, does not suggest that he cannot also smell the flower or eventually
differentiate it from other affordances. What it suggests is that there is
a tendency within autism to immediately perceive the relational qual-
ity of a welling environment that dynamically appears in a jointness
of experience. This foregrounding of the immediate field of experi-
ence we call entertainment.20 Entertainment is prior to the distinction
between active and passive, subject and object. Entertainment is to
be captivated in a dance of attention. All experiential fielding includes
incipient entrainments and immediate entertainments. It is a question
of degree, and of mixture. The call to smell a flower upon seeing it –
the welling sense that a flower is for something, for smelling – is a neu-
rotypical response that is already moving toward grasping the flower
as an object against the environment as a background, even as the
environment is just coming to entertainment. For the neurotypical, the
mode of entertainment tends already to be saturated with entrainment.
The field of experience is pre-perfused with for-ness. It is already tend-
ing toward expression in use-value – rather than entertaining express-
ibility on its own account. For the autist the flower and environment,
entrainment and entertainment, are not immediately separable. Flower
and environment are not reciprocally delimited as foreground and
background, separable object and surround, but feature jointly in co-
activity. They co-feature as tonal differences in a field modulating the

e­ xistence is “essentially referent” to other modes (see note 10 above), in particular

the mode of “presentational immediacy.” Presentational immediacy is the “vivid
enjoyment” of immediate sense experience. By our interpretation of these concepts,
causal efficacy and presentational immediacy are in all but extreme cases present in
effective mixture (Whitehead calls it “fusion”), or their mutual “taking account” of
each other. Their fusion yields a variety of mixed modes, one of which is what we
normally think of as object perception. We are asserting here that there is another
mode that we are calling environmental. Whitehead himself focuses on the mode of
presentational immediacy in its purest form, where it is separated out from causal
efficacy to the greatest degree. This occurs when qualities of objects appear as
abstractable from them (as “sense-data”). The differences are of emphasis in the
moment’s mode of composition, or in Whiteheadian terms, how the moment asserts
“importance” as it strives to be taken account of. – The quotes from Whitehead in
this note are from Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (New York: Fordham Univer-
sity Press, 1927), p. 42 ff.
20 Entertainment references Whitehead’s “presentational immediacy,” the “vivid
enjoyment” of immediate sense experience, as we interpret this category (note 12


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whole of ­experience at all levels, composing an overall mode of exis-
tence that is in a different key than the neurotypical norm.

“Modes of existence are always plural and relational,” writes Etienne

Souriau: “existence can be found not only in beings, but between
them.”21 Modes of existence are intermodal. As defined by Souriau
and Gilbert Simondon, modes of existence do not reify being by taking
it as already-constituted. They involve comings-to-existence through
singular events where objects are in the making. The modality of the
events’ singular coming-to-be is the existence. There is not an already-
constituted being that has the modality. The modality makes the being.
Modes of existence are not only intermodal, they are also plural in
relation to themselves, each containing the others in germ, to a degree,
as an internal difference that is a compositional feature of its own tex-
turing. Each tends to want of the others. Modes of existence have an
inbred appetite for each other, and cannot easily sustain themselves
separately, try as they might sometimes.

The autism rights movement emphasizes the multiplicity of modes of

existence, under the term neurodiversity.22 They are not only signal-

21 Etienne Souriau, Les différents modes d’existence, ed. Isabelle Stengers and
Bruno Latour (Paris: PUF, 2009), p. 16.
22 What autists do is emphasize, in their very approach to life, how the world
dances to attention as a field experience full of potential blooms, including outcomes
deemed neurotypical. It bears repeating that the autists we are thinking-with here –
Tito Mukhopadhyay, DJ Savarese, Amanda Baggs, Jim Sinclair, Larry Bissonnette,
Sue Rubin, Jamie Burke  – are classified as “low-functioning,” which means that
they suffer from complex motor problems including the inability to speak and seri-
ous issues with the activation or initiation of tasks, anxiety, echolalia, etc. They
can rarely live completely without assistance. And yet their writing astounds in its
complexity, in its rhythm and tonal qualities, in its political astuteness. As Ralph
Savarese, poet and father of DJ Savarese, notes, “While acknowledging the many
challenges that accompany the condition, proponents of neurodiversity insist that
autism should not be pathologized and ‘corrected’ but, rather, celebrated as a kind
of natural, human difference. The condition affords, especially at the so-called ‘low-
functioning’ end of the spectrum, with those who have been taught to read and to
communicate, a range of gifts. One of these gifts is poetic perception and writing. For
decades it has been assumed that Autistics are the victims of an obdurate literality,
which leaves them baffled by figurative language. While this may be the case with
‘high-functioning’ Autistics or those with Asperger syndrome, it is not with classi-
cal Autistics, who have begun to demonstrate extraordinary competence. […] Only
recently have some of these Autistics been exposed to creative writing instruction,
and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.” Ralph Savarese, prospectus
for A Dispute with Nouns, or Adventures in Radical Relationality: Autism, Poetry,
and the Sensing Body (2010). Savarese has written at length about the autistic indi-


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ling the need to attend to the blooming of fields of relation from which
neither pre-defined objects nor overshadowing subjects have yet to be
singled out, they are alerting us as well to the intricacies of percep-
tion across the spectrum. For neurotypicals are in fact neurodiverse,
also immediately perceiving relation. The difference is the speed of
subtraction of objects from the total field, owing to the field’s pre-per-
fusion with entrainment. Under certain circumstances, neurotypicals
themselves experience a predominance of environmental awareness.
It is rarely focused on, though, appearing as an ephemeral interlude
between more substantial-feeling affordances. When environmental
awareness does resurface, it is without fully-bloomed objects and
overshadowing subjects, as autists describe. But there is still a degree
of difference between this and other modes of existence on the wider
spectrum of neurodiversity. Because entrainment reigns as an imme-
diate tendency in neurotypicals, even when they are immersed in a
self-entertaining relational field, affordances already agitate, but are
not yet objectified. For the neurotypical standing in a grassy farmer’s
field painting a flower, the flowering of experience may immediately
present itself for artistic rendering, as it does for autists. But there will
likely also be an equally immediate sense of how the flower stands in
relation to grass and trees, including a tacit cartography of how to get
from road to field to flower and back, and what that trajectory might
afford. This efficacious orienting occurs directly as a field-effect, on the
level of the objectile, not on the level of constituted objects as such.

Ebb and Flow

You’re late, you’re hurrying from the subway to the office on a crowded
rush-hour sidewalk. Bodies all around, thicker and thinner, faster and
slower, in a complex ebb and flow. In the ebb and flow, temporary
openings come and go. Your perception is focused on the coming and
going of the openings, which correspond to no thing in particular. Each
opening is a field effect. It is an artifact of the moving configuration
of the bodies around you, factoring in their relative speeds, and their

viduals listed above, focusing on their art and poetry even while exploring in a very
nuanced manner the challenges so-called “low-functioning” autists face. See his
forthcoming book as well as Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption.
On the Meaning of Family and the Politics of Neurological Difference (New York:
Other Press, 2008). For work by these autists mentioned above as well as others
in the Disability Studies community, see the special issue on autism in Disability
Studies Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 1 (2010),


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rates of acceleration and deceleration as their paths weave around
each other and around obstacles. The opening is not simply a hole, a
lack of something occupying it. It is a positive expression of how every-
thing in the field, moving and still, integrally relates at that instant. It
is the appearance of the field’s relationality, from a particular angle.
The particular angle is that of your body getting ahead. The opening
is how the field appears as an affordance for your getting-ahead. Your
movement has to be present to the opening as it happens. Wait, and
the opening closes. Its perception and your moving into it must be
one. There is no time to reflect, no time to focus, assess and choose. If
you focus on one body over another, you see one body then another –
and not the opening in the field of movement they share. You have to
soften your focus, letting the field’s changing configuration dilate to
fill experience. You have to let what is normally your peripheral vision
take over, attending to everything in the same way. The experience is
then all movement-texture, complexly patterned, full of change and
transition, teemingly differentiated. You’re surfing the crowd even as
the crowd is surfing you. Despite the rush, this is not without joy.
You revel in the fluidity of your trajectory, without focusing on it as
a feeling-tone separate from the movement. You have performed an
integral dance of attention, seemingly without thinking.

But you were thinking, with your movement. Your every movement
was a performed analysis of the field’s composition from the angle
of its affordance for getting-ahead. Entering the dance of attention,
your perceiving converged with your moving activity, and your activ-
ity was your thinking. You entered a mode of environmental aware-
ness in which to perceive is to enact thought, and thought is directly
relational. This actively relational thinking is also an expression of the
field, but in a different mode than story-telling, poetic or not, with no
immediate need for language, satisfying itself at a level with the body’s
movements: integrally embodied expression.

In retrospect, it will likely appear to you that the predominant object

singled out by your memory – the sidewalk – had been your affordance
from the subway to the office. In the office, cluttered with entraining
affordances – the computer for emailing, the phone for message check-
ing, the chair for sitting – objects will be in focus again. But in the mode
of environmental awareness that effectively got you to the office on time,
it was not the object sidewalk that afforded the last leg of your commute.
It was the fleeting openings, now forgotten. The openings are long gone.
The sidewalk remains. The stability of the sidewalk, its ability to re-
feature in experience from moment to moment, is an enabling condition


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for the ephemerality of the openings. This is how what we single out
as objects figure for environmental awareness in the moment: as fused
into a field of movement, their stability entering into that field on equal
footing, as one contrast in its complex relational patterning.

Perhaps the difference between the environmental awareness of the

autist and that of neurotypicals is that neurotypicals always fuse the
entertainment of the environment with an immediate availing them-
selves of affordances. Whereas the autist becomes the field, integrally
co-compositional with it, for the neurotypical, the field comes already
saturated with affordances it proposes, with openings or object-buds
offering themselves as conduits for the field’s coming expression,
already oriented efficaciously. This efficacious tendency in neurotypi-
cals lends the field more “naturally” to the kind of cross-checking that
is for fact-finding, rather than for story-making in a poetic sense, as it
was in Mukhopadhyay’s case. For both neurotypicals and autists, and
all along the spectrum of neurodiversity, it is only beyond the moment,
with memory, and with the retellings memory makes possible, that
objects will stand out clearly, sagely observing the boundary between
experience and imagining. In the moment, they are fused with field
effects that are moving and ephemeral and at the threshold.

When the Field Dances

A mode of existence never preexists an event. The sittability of the

chair in your office does not preclude the chair becoming an affor-
dance for sleep. The mode of existence has to do with the emergent
quality of the experience, not with the factually cross-checked identity
of the objects featuring in it. What is startling about the neurotypical
is the capacity to background the in-formation of the field, and to pre-
substract from the expressive potential of its relational complexity. No
cartwheels in the classroom.

But what of the classroom? What of our neurotypical children who

cannot sit still as they are told how and what to learn? Where is that joy
we remember in their perpetually moving and ephemeral four-year old
bodies before the classroom took over? What presuppositions exist in
the very notion of the neurotypical? The “epidemic” of attention-deficit
disorder rings alarm bells. Might not the diagnoses betray an inatten-
tion on the part of adults to an attentiveness of a different order? One
mode of existence’s deficit may be another’s fullness.


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Take this example of Mukhopadhyay’s. In the context of a classroom
much below his intellectual level, he is asked to add 4 + 2. When he
is seemingly incapable of following through with the task, the teacher
quickly comes to a conclusion regarding his deficient intellect, assum-
ing that because Mukhopadhyay did not come up with the answer she
had expected, he was incapable of carrying through even the simplest
of mathematical equations. Yet, listen to how Mukhopadhyay relates
the story:

I was wondering why the hell that 4 had to interact with the number 2,
through a + sign. […] I looked at the number 2, wondering about the
coordinate axes of the plane surface and the probable coordinate points
that 2 would hold. And as I saw the position of 2 somewhere on the upper
side of the page, I mentally assigned it with the coordinate points of 3 and
7. Three as the x coordinate and 7 as the y coordinate. I could see the page
divided into graphic grids. I heard my aide saying something like I needed
to finish up my work. But I was busy assigning a coordinate value to 4.
Finally, I settled with the values of 3 and 9 as x and y coordinates. I gave a
quick value to the addition sign also. Then I found a whole story of number
characters other than merely 2 and 4, competing, quarreling, and asserting
themselves to be written down. Finally, I needed the help of ‘average.’ I
took the average on the x side and the average on the y side to bring peace
among the numbers.23

Mukhopadhyay is in the thick of a number field of experience. Just as

colour, shadow, and smell were in active interplay in the sunlit field,
numbers are in a commotion of relational activity, each vying to be
written down, to be the conduit of the field’s summing up in a deter-
minate expression.

The lack of the expected outcome, that 4 + 2 = 6, clearly has less to do

with Mukhopadhyay’s capacity for reasoning than with a deficiency in
entrainment. This is a “deficiency” only in the sense that the summing
up of the field – the subtraction, from the fullness of its complexity, of
a particular product that stands out from it – takes more time because
the immediate field of experience does not come already oriented for
efficacy. The neurotypical approach is to jump as quickly as possible
to the most “reasonable” outcome, the one most easily cross-checkable
factually. That this rationality is a subtraction from the fielding of an
event much richer than it, is rarely acknowledged. The event is too

23 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 154 -155.


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rarely perceived in the more of the less of its sum, in the intensity of
its emergent multiplicity.

For Mukhopadhyay, mathematics dances to attention in a way that

lends it to the relational force of its associated milieu. All manner of
exotic, potential outcomes vie. “What if a 2-dimensional point is added
to a 4-dimensional point?” Mukhopdhyay continues, “I saw the fourth
time-vector coordinate, leading the plane, in a clockwise motion, com-
ing back every twelve hours, in a 360 degree rotation. My day filled
with all the exotic wonders that 2 + 4 could offer. I developed a very
powerful 2 + 4 system, which kept my mind and senses entertained
for the rest of the day.”24 The equation, it turns out, is much more than
two numbers, a plus sign and an outcome – it is the generating of a
field that modulates experience, that entertains, that busies the body
and absorbs attention, that creates a panoply of sense. Mathematics is
intrinsically related to the experience of the day’s unfolding, to how
the world girates with potential, to how time itself works. It is not a
discrete tool or task. It is a procedure integrally entering into the self-
enjoyment  – to use a term from Whitehead  – of the environmental

The Gateway Called Moment

Just as language comes late, speedy equation-solving also comes

late. The event, intensified by the field effects of relational potential,
entrains as an afterthought. This leaves the commotional complex-
ity of the moment in gyration. “Moments could get out of control,”
Mukhopadhyay writes,

when they became unpredictable and too large for my senses to accumulate
all that they involved within their field. One moment, you may look at a pic-
ture, and at the same time you are aware of the pink wall around the picture,
you are also aware of Jack’s voice explaining something about the picture.
The very next moment you are looking at the reflection through its glass
frame, which is competing for attention while you are looking at the picture.
You may see a part of the room reflected in the glass, and you may be so
absorbed in the reflection that you may not hear anything from Jack’s voice
because you suddenly discover that those reflections are conspiring to tell
you a story. Jack’s voice may float in that story as big or small bubbles.25

24 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 156.

25 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 52 – 53.


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Voice and reflections in a struggle to define the predominate experien-
tial register of the event, voice vying to background reflection, reflec-
tion endeavoring to encompass voice as a bubbling parcel of itself. This
is the experience of a conversation for Mukhopadhyay. Immersion in
the activity of the field, alive with competing tendencies to sort itself
out. The focus is less on what might typically be assumed to be the
content of the conversation than on its dynamic form: the performative
tendencies enacting the event of its self-relating. The playing out of the
tendencies is what sorts out the field. “Moments are defined by what
your senses are compelled to attend to,” Mukhopadhyay continues. “A
moment may include a shadow of Jack’s chair falling on the floor or
a pen peeping out from the pile of papers, perhaps wishing to have a
voice so that it could say aloud, ‘Here I am! Here I am’.”26 The cry of
expression already sounds in the field. The field is already expressing a
tendency toward something singling-out. Even now in the immediacy
of the moment, something is already calling out for the right to stand
out, efficaciously or poetically, it is not yet clear.

Note that in Mukhopadhyay’s recounting the moment is the subject.

The subject of the experience is not the human but the fielding of the
event itself. The human element alone is not sufficient to account for
the field’s activity. Instead of a pre-composed subject standing over
and above the event, overshadowing the moment, we have a vying
commotion of co-activity. The dynamic form of that co-activity coming
toward expression is what Whitehead calls the subjective form of the
event. In Mukhopdhyay’s account, the moment’s subjective form is as
yet unresolved. It quivers still in the disquiet of the intensely resonant
field. The problem of the moment is how the commotion will sort
out: which register of field-effect will stand out, having most forcefully
expressed itself vis-à-vis the others. Only once this shake-down occurs
will the determinate content of the event be defined as predominately
a reflecting or a conversing, a shadowing or a penning. This brings to
mind William James’s work on the pen in relation to consciousness.
He writes:

This pen is …in the first instance, a bald that […] To get classified either as
a physical pen or as someone’s percept of a pen, it must assume a function,
and that can only happen in a more complicated world. So far as in that
world it is a stable feature, holds ink, marks paper and obeys the guidance
of the hand, it is a physical pen. […] So far as it is instable …coming and

26 Ibid.


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going with the movements of my eyes, altering with what I call my fancy,
continuous with subsequent experiences of its ‘having been’ (in the past
tense), it is the percept of a pen in my mind. Those peculiarities are what
we mean by being ‘conscious’ in a pen.27

In a pen? “Here I am, here I am” screams Mukhopadhyay’s pen. I am

in the moment; put the moment in me! Pen the moment!

In James, the moment is the gateway to a conscious experience of a

determinate kind: a pen experience in a world complicated by func-
tion, a world of definite use-value. One of the reasons this level of
worlding is complicated  – as opposed to complex  – is that the pen
double features in it. It alternates between two roles. Grasp it from
the angle of entrainment, from the angle of what it can do  – “hold
ink, mark paper, obey the guidance of the hand”  – and it emerges
as a stable physical object as opposed to being a percept. Humor it
in the ephemerality of its self-entertainment  – in the way it “comes
and goes,” self-relating, “continuous with subsequent experiences of
its having been”  – and the pen emerges as a percept. What we call
the cognitive relation is in fact a pattern of the pen emerging alter-
nately as physical or as percept, across different moments. The pen
can only do this double cognitive duty because “in the first instance,”
in the singularity of each and every moment’s come and go, it was an
indeterminate field-effect: a “bald that” (not yet a this or that). In this
uncertainty of fielding, consciousness is already dawning, but has not
blossomed into a fully-formed cognition. The pen, as Whitehead would
say, is already cognizable, but not yet finally cognized. It is as yet but
a cognizable factor in field experience. When the moment has penned
itself into a determinate emergence, consciousness begins to flicker. It
is holding pen and its use-value distinctly in the foreground, in a now
object-centered entertainment. Now, entertainment is of the object
pen, not of the full field. The field is no longer saturated with entrain-
ment, but is heavy with it, locally. The singled-out object pen bears
all the weight of it. Field-wide entertainment, its integral relationality,
has been backgrounded. But the foreground only stands out because it
has a background to stand out from. Background and foreground are
in mutual embrace, the backgrounded activity still vying for attention.
Consciousness flickers with the tension between backgrounded envi-
ronmental awareness and foregrounded cognition. Cognition is the
impossibility of grasping the field in all of its cognizable effects. This is

27 William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 57–58.


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what it means to be conscious in a pen, as opposed to be cognizant of
it. It means to be cognizant in a commotional becoming-penfield.

The difference in Mukhopdhyay’s case is that the pen’s call – “here

I am! here I am!”  – remains interwoven with Jack’s laughter rather
than distinctly taking the fore. “And within the same moment,”
­Mukhopdhyay continues,

there may be a sudden sound of laughter that can dissolve the stories told by
the reflections and the sullen silence of the chair’s shadow with its demand-
ing noise, making you wonder which part of the funny story from Jack’s
voice you missed listening to while you were watching the giant blades of
the fan pushing out every story and sound away from it with air.28

Instead of immediately tuning to what Whitehead calls cognition’s

small focal region of clear illumination, the event here gives equal bill-
ing to the field of the cognizable, what for the fully formed cognition
will remain a “large penumbral region of experience which tells of
intense experience in dim apprehension” – flickeringly reminding us
that “[t]he simplicity of clear consciousness is no measure of the com-
plexity of complete experience.”29 In the moment, in the pen might just
was well have been in the blades, or “in” the laughter. It all depends
on how the commotion cognitively shakes down in the end. Even at
the cognitive end of the experience, the “large penumbral region” of
experience still flickers with what might just as well have been. It is
the remaining refuge of experience’s variety.


Experience’s variety does not preclude the efficacy of use; it includes

it differently. Take Mukhopadhyay’s experience of the door. He writes:
“The colour comes and then the shape and then the size, the whole
thing needs time to get integrated. To be described as a door, there is
position, the open or closed.”30 When Mukhopadhyay sees the “door”
he does not immediately see a threshold for passage, as a neurotypi-
cal person might. He sees qualities in a texture of integral experience.
Colour fields first, and from that interplay shape asserts itself. Here
I am! Then with shape comes size. This relay of emergence is now

28 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 53.

29 William James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, p. 267.
30 Iverson, Strange Son, p. 237.


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ready to be described as a door. Only now does it have position, only
now does it afford passage. As it becomes determinate, an object form
separates out from the dynamic form, an affordance opens, and the
tendency for describing makes itself felt, tuning to language. The field
has pressed on toward expressing itself in language. The field of emer-
gence is ready to tell its story. Mukhopadhyay does see the door, and
its doorness does allow it to function for crossing through, and this
affordance is expressible in language. But it all takes time. It takes time
for the field of experience to actively sort itself out toward its coming
to determinate expression.

To a neurotypical, something qualitatively different tends to occur in

the same field. Because going through a door is such a habitual expe-
rience, the crossing is likely to occur as if automatically, without the
interplay of qualities, their relay, the emergence of door and the open-
ing of the affordance, even registering. Doorness disappears. The door
figures as always-already passed through. Any description of it will
have to be a reconstitution, the event coming toward expression in
language from the field of memory rather than the field of immediacy.
This is yet another variation, in addition to environmental awareness
and cognition and their flicker: that of reflective consciousness. Reflec-
tive consciousness is a variation on the neurotypical – underlining the
point made earlier that every mode of existence, including the neuro-
typical, is in fact neurodiverse, intermodal in its internal ­composition.

“What happens if the position changes, if, say, we close the door?”
Portia Iverson asks Mukhopadhyay. “It may disrupt the whole thing,
and you may need to start once again” he responds.31 The emergence
toward objecthood, affordance, and linguistic expression has to return
to the field and start again from the “bald that” of the moment. The key
difference between the autist and the neurotypical is that the neuro-
typical does not explicitly need to start over at every moment. The neu-
rotypical has always at the ready a kind of experiential shorthand with
which to abridge the event: habit. The neurotypical has at the ready a
procedure for reconstituting something from the phases of experience’s
fielding whose immediate entertainment was skipped: the procedure
of reflective consiousness. The shortening of experience by habit and
its reconstitution by reflection go neurotypically hand in hand with the
greatest of fluidity. What falls out between habit and reflection, leaving
a gap they work in concert to smooth over with the aide of language

31 Iverson, Strange Son, p. 238.


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coming from the field of memory, is the coming alive of the field of
experiential immediacy, in its emergent dance of attention.32


Amanda Baggs quoting Anne Corwin explains how entering a room is

different for an autist:

I would probably walk into the room and see ‘check patterns’ before even
being able to identify the door as a door and the tablecloth as a tablecloth!
[…] The process of ‘resolving patterns and shapes and forms into familiar
objects’ is actually a semi-conscious one for me. […] I often tend to sit
on floors and other surfaces even if furniture is available, because it’s a
lot easier to identify ‘flat surface a person can sit on’ than it is to sort the
environment into chunks like ‘couch‘, ‘chair‘, ‘floor‘, and ‘coffee table‘. […]
There is much more. There is always more.33

It is no doubt easier to habitually cross into a room that itself habitually

chunks into chairs and tables, than to begin with the whole-field pattern
as yet unresolved into shapes. Rather than chunking, what occurs on
the autistic spectrum of neurodiversity is an immediate entertainment
of modalities of relation. Pattern, an interplay of contrasts, comes
before familiar use and describable chunking.
The neurotypical approach backgrounds this modulation of relational
emphases by subtracting from the emergent environment that which
is not immediately suited to its use. In the case of a dinner party, upon
entering a foreign dining room, the neurotypical will likely align to the
entrainments of chair-sittability and table-eatability before they even
fully note the checkedness of the field. In another context – painting

32 The problem of reflective consciousness is directly connected, for autists, to

the disconnect between voluntary and automatic movement – a disconnect associ-
ated to the difficulty they experience with the activation of a task. Amanda Baggs
writes: “I have known for a long time that my relationship to voluntary movement
is not the same as my relationship to automatic movements, that there is in fact
quite a large difference between the two, and that I process automatic movements
as ‘background’ but don’t process voluntary movements that way. And that most
movements for me are not automatic, but require finding the body part and making
it move around for me in a fairly laborious way.” – Blog Entry, http://ballastexis-, Access: 5.11.2010.
33 Amanda Baggs, “My Sort of People, Just As Real As Theirs”, Blog Entry, https://, Access: 5.11.2010; see
also, Anne Corwin,


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the kitchen, for instance  – the causal efficacy of chairness will shift
automatically to laddering, upsetting any notion that entrainment is
unvarying. What is unvarying about entrainment is that it is always
emphasis-by-subtraction. In yet another context, say creating an art
installation in the kitchen, the affordances of entertainment get bac
grounded. Entertainment takes over, now with a richly textured rela­
tional emphasis co-involving field-effects of colour, light and surface,
pattern and contrast, the whole characterized by an overall field qual-
ity of airiness or crampiness, convivial freshness or the staleness of
familial constriction. The field of immediacy reappears for itself, in its
own qualitative-relational terms. It will sort out one way or another,
but in the moment there always will have been much more.

The “much more, always more” of Corwin’s entering a room suggests

that the challenge for autism lies with the less of subtraction. The
room is immediately experienced in its always-more, each chunking
an achievement, a new adventure in experience coming alive toward
expression. “I taught myself to read at three,” Amanda Baggs relates,

and I had to learn it again at ten, and yet again at seventeen, and at twenty-
one, and at twenty-six. The words that it took me twelve years to find have
been lost again, and regained, and lost, and still have not come all the way
back to where I can be reasonably confident they’ll be there when I need
them.  It wasn’t enough to figure out just once how to keep track of my eyes
and ears and hands and feet all at the same time; I’ve lost track of them and
had to find them over and over again.34

Against Neuroreductionism

The neuro is everywhere in the air today. Neuroarchitecture, neuroaes-

thetics, neurocriticism. We have advanced the term neurodiversity here
in order to problematize the “neuro” no less than the “typical.” Certain
of today’s neurocurrents, those informed by embodied cognition and its
younger offspring enactive perception, converge in some respects with
the account developed here. We are uneasy, however, with the general
excitement generated by recent advances in brain imaging technology,
which have been met with another wave of the cyclic craze for finding
neural correlates of experiential events. The models, admittedly, are
vastly more complex than earlier paradigms of localization, nuanced

34 Amanda Baggs, “My Sort of People, Just As Real As Theirs”, Access:  5.11.2010.


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as they are with notions of systemic feedback, distributed networks,
and emergent patterning of neural activity. In spite of these very real
advances, the problem remains for us that the impulse to identify an
experiential event with a brain state tends to take precedence, and
is too often given the first and last word. This cerebral reductionism
runs counter to other tendencies equally present in today’s neurocur-
rents. Beginning and ending the conversation with brain states sideline
problematics of a kind that might be considered phenomenological –
where the field of immediate experience is always-already subjective,
or even pre-subjective (in the sense of already imbued with specifically
human meaning just waiting to be “disclosed,” or translatable from
the status of a “implicit knowledge” into an explicit schema). For us,
as for autists, this isn’t the case. We approach the field of experience
as “pure,” in William James’s sense of being neither subjective nor
objective yet  – yet ready to be both or either, more and less, multi-
plicitously. Whatever human meaning an experience has, whatever
schema it exhibits, it has achieved them, as an adventure of integrally
renewed self-composition and emergent variation, starting always all
over again from the “bald” commotional “that” of the gateway that is
moment. This forbids appealing to phenomenology as a corrective to
our discomfort with neuroreductionism.

From the perspective developed here, the notion of neural correlates –

the idea that experiential events “correspond” to brain states – errs in
presupposing the dichotomy between the determinately physical and
the fickely perceptual. In our account, following James and Whitehead,
this distinction takes form on the highly derived level of reflective con-
sciousness, which is itself predicated on the subtractive emergence of
cognition from a richer and more encompassing field of coming experi-
ence. The search for neural correlates glosses over the immediacy of the
field of experience, its phased becomings and variations, its flickerings,
its constant reminders that the simplicity of clear consciousness is no
measure of the complexity of complete experience. The search for neural
correlates glosses over this intensity and complexity in theory, while in
practice it constantly returns to it without acknowledging that move.
The surreptitious appeal by neuroscientists to the total field is a
practical necessity because a correlation between an experiential event
and a brain-state cannot be established without eliciting an experi-
ential event from which a brain image can be extracted. Subjects are
shown particular images, or inducted into certain kinds of activity, or
induced into certain affective orientations. A mapping of brain activ-
ity is then extracted from the event by the imaging technology. The
­predominant experiential characteristics of the context from which the


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image has been extracted – a visual perception of a certain type, the
execution of a particular category of act, an affective priming of a
certain cast – is then set against the brain state. The brain state is con-
strued as the physical/objective/bodily side of the event, and the pre-
determined experiential characteristics of the context are construed as
the perceptual/subjective/phenomenal side. Nonetheless, however the
correlation is construed philosophically, it tends to be lopsided. The
physical side tends to be treated as explanatory of the perceptual side.
This reduces the perceptual/subjective/phenomenal to the status of an
epiphenomen. Even interpretations which tie the two sides together
with a model of emergence cannot escape the explanatory lopsiding
inherent in attributing epiphenomenal status to the phenomenal. The
physical/objective/bodily comes out more “real.” Inherent to every
“discovery” of a correlation there is a valorizing of the determinately
physical pole since the entire setup is designed precisely in order to
extract this side of the event.35 The technology used is custom-made
precisely for that. The whole exercise is angled toward the emphasis-
by-subtraction of the physical from the experimental context.
To put it another way, the laboratory setup always reenters its proj-
ect of explanatory modeling through the gateway called moment. An
event is triggered. However controlled the context, there are always
minor elements considered peripheral to the predominant type, cat-
egory, or cast of the context to which the brain state will be correlated.
The contribution of these active ingredients to the total field falls out.
It is pre-designed out of the model. This is no small thing, because
among the “minor” ingredients are a whole panoply of relational-field
effects, which from the point of view of the environmental awareness
we have been talking about are absolutely integral to the genesis of the
event. The experimental setup systematically subtracts them, in order
to emphasize the contribution of the brain, to the extent that it can be
reduced to the physical.
We are not saying that this has no value. It has undeniable therapeutic
value  – to the extent that the neural factors set enabling conditions
for the playing out of the event. Our point is that the activity of neu-
rons enter the event on an equal footing with other ingredients to it:
from the angle of their ability to co-compose relational field-effects.
Alone, they are nothing. Together with other ingredients, which are of

35 Our use in this section of “physical pole” and “perceptual pole” should not
be confused with Whitehead’s distinction between the “physical” and “mental”
poles, to which he gives a particular meaning free of the cognitive presuppositions
involved in the physical/percept distinction as it functions on the derivative level of
reflective consciousness.


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every conceivable determinable nature, the neurons vie to have their
“voice” heard most loudly in the way in which the event moves toward
expression. Take me, take me! The neuroscientist takes them happily –
without realizing that when the neuronal as such is most determining
of the outcome of the event is when the event is operating at its most
automatic.36 The “physical” is in fact a limit-state of the habitual, its
extreme. Much goes into making a habit besides electrical impulses and
chemical signals. A whole world of relationality enters into it, subtrac-
tively. The physical as automatic-habitual is a subtractive limitation of
the dance of attention of the field of experience. Extracting it from the
field is adding subtraction to subtraction, carrying the emphasis-by-
subtraction of habit to a higher power. This is exactly what makes neu-
rocentric modeling so useful therapeutically: it isolates the subtractive
limit of the field of experience’s functioning. At the limit of that limit
lies the pathological: when the automaticity of the physical takes over
to the point of undermining the use-value of habit on other levels of
the relational world. The whole setup is contrived as a function of the
pathological. That is our point: the neuro is inherently a therapeutic
concept contrived with and for the pathological – which is to say that
it is guided by an a priori commitment to a presupposed, quantifiable,
base-state distinction between the normal and the pathological. No
matter what kind of philosophical calisthenics are performed around
it, the neuro remains profoundly neurotypical.

36 For Bergson, consciousness arises when automatic action-reaction circuits are

interrupted. The mechanism of consciousness is to inhibit or slow down automaticity.
The interruptive gap between action and reaction is filled with tendencies (germinal
“forms of process,” as in note 10 above) vying for actualization. It is their vying which
we experience as “our” thinking. This germinal activity of forms of process striving
for expression brinks into consciousness, but in its first stirrings, in the fullness of its
activity, it is non-conscious by nature. The emphases of conscious experience are, for
Whitehead also, predicated on the “elimination” of not-fully determinate formative
activity. Elements of what is eliminated from the central focal region of consciousness
persist vaguely in the surrounding “penumbral” region forming the periphery or back-
ground from which clear consciousness stands out. The penumbra of consciousness
is semi-conscious. This semi-conscious surround of consciousness makes conscious-
ness, however focused, however eliminative, a variegated field phenomenon. It is the
fielding of consciousness that comes out for itself, as a mode of experience in its own
right, in what we call “environmental awareness.” Environmental awareness is full
of entrainment, but also exerts a force of entertainment (in Whiteheadian terms, as
we interpret them, it is saturated with causal efficacy, but also has a degree of pre-
sentational immediacy in fusion with it). On consciousness and inhibition of activity,
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, transl. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer
(London: Allen and Unwin, 1911), chapter 1. On elimination, see Whitehead, Process
and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978), p. 187 f.


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There is no doubt that autists’ brains are “wired” differently. There is
the possibility that this difference may be “cured.” Our point is that
while the neuro has therapeutic value, it only has explanatory value
in a context that it explicitly works with and through the nuances of
the experiential in its shifting expressions. In the moment, the immedi-
ate field of experience is self-explaining in the way it complexly plays
out, composing a self-expressive outcome for itself. From moment to
moment, experience explains itself more extensively in the variations
on its expressive outcomes. Its self-explaining always starts from quali­
tative field-effects, like coloured shadow. Its outcomes always have an
overall qualitative color, or affective tonality. The field of experience is
best described as relational-qualitative, not physical or perceptual, or
some correlated combination of these. The question of “curing” modes
of existence like autism must be situated on this relational-qualitative
ground. It is not just a therapeutic question. It is a question of the
diversity of modes of existence, and of the modes of thought they
enact, and of the varieties of expressive outcomes they compose, and
of the differing determinations of experience those outcomes instanti-
ate in the world. The question of curing is in fact an ecological ques-
tion concerning how diversities co-inhabit the same field of becoming-
human, and co-compose.37

DJ Savarese, writing in the crushingly over-medicalized United States,

polemically makes this point in terms of “freedom,” playing the con-
ventional political rhetoric of his country of birth against its tendency
toward therapeutic overkill.

The great United States of America is breathtakingly not free. Equality is not
as sacred because not everyone has access to it. Freedom is not as available
as many people think. First, free people treat my people, very smart people
who type to communicate, as mindless. Second, they underestimate us as
very bad instead of reaching out to us. The creators of everyone’s very
important Declaration of Independence wasted their breath.38

What we have endeavored to help draft, co-composing with writers

like DJ Savarese, Amanda Baggs and Tito Mukhopadhyay, is a Declara-
tion of Independence from neuroreductionism, for all.

37 For a continued exploration of the ecology of diversity, see Erin Manning, “An
Ethics of Language in the Making”, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance
(forthcoming Duke UP).
38 Ralph Savarese,


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Ulas Aktas

Civilisational Wilderness or Civilderness and Cultural

Immune Systems1

Hyperpolitics …deconstruction …the global financial crisis …asymmet-

ric wars …gender depression …superpositivism …climate change …the
global slum crisis … investor blackmail …the spread of AIDS …budget-
ary collapse …biopolitics …neo-racism … etc. etc.
It would not be difficult to come up with yet more terms with which
to continue this series. Terms describing the general state of crisis are
in themselves so inflationary that merely in describing the crises one
attains a critical state oneself. The term crisis is a medical one, sug-
gesting that an organism will either recover or die. While in the current
formation of civilisation neither of these options can be expected, it
would appear more accurate to follow Paul Virilio’s profound diagno-
sis and assume a state of “raging standstill”2.
Can anything consistent even be said about the development of this
hyperaccelerated civilisational standstill? Perhaps not, yet it would
seem that an attempt must be made.
Taking Foucault’s and Deleuze’ expectations of a further radical
transformation in the supporting axes of civilisational force formations
and Hans Peter Weber’s concisely clarifying insights into the mode
of operation of a cultural screen (the immunitary conditions of the
culturality of human existence) as my point of departure, a certain
virulence seems to me to be present. It is the virulence of an inquiry
into an as yet unqualified cultural screen for the future constitution
of civilisation. That the current cultural screen, by which I mean the
balance of forces within the cultural immune systems, is in a state of
disintegration, would seem apparent.3 My perspective is the one of a
cultural anthropologist. I will therefore proceed as follows:

1 The concept of a cultural immune system is related to Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix
Guattari’s concept of a body without organs. Deleuze/Guattari: “It is a question of
making a body without organs upon which intensities pass, self and other – not
in the name of a higher level of generality or a broader extension, but by virtue of
singularities that can no longer be said to be personal, and intensities that can no
longer be said to be extensive.” – Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Pla­
teaus (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 156.
2 See Paul Virilio, Rasender Stillstand (München: Hanser, 1992) and his Revolutionen
der Geschwindigkeit (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1993).
3 Clearly, this tableau will form the background to a considerable reform in the field
of dance.


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1. First of all I shall attempt to clarify the Foucauldian-Deleuzian
expectations of a further radical transformation within the supporting
axes of the basic formations of civilisational forces. 2. My next step
is to outline the creatural conditions of cultural screening within an
anthropic community as described by Hans Peter Weber. 3. Finally
I should like to delineate the effect of dance on cultural screening at
issue here as a search for the poetic elementary particles of an aesthet-
ics of existence.

The collapsing civilising forces: the age of axes

When we speak of dance and politics today, it is self-evident that the

state no longer formulates the new civilising forces. Rather, these are
created by a tuning of forces on every organic and organisational level.
The state is merely expected to join and lend its legitimising support to
these forces, which have established themselves globally in the radical
research and recovery industries.4 State policies no longer act but only
assist, and often enough not even that – the new forces establish them-
selves beyond the classic forces, the new forces exerting control over
the old. Showing no preference for the body, i.e. biotic organs, as the
site at which to exert their influence, they are unlimited and impinge
on everything that is physically attainable, following the slogan: Brains
first!! (AI, robotics etc.)
Deleuze was not the first to realise that these civilisational changes
were not merely superficial phenomena but the cause of fundamental
transformative processes within the creation of the self. In agreement
with Foucault’s finely differentiated analysis of the modern age in The
Order of Things5 he proceeds from the assumption that every epochal
formation stems from a combination of force relations, the forces of the
inside and forces of the outside. The forces of the inside are the forces of

4 Hans Peter Weber on the term third nature: “That which is called the third nature
is therefore a) not a third (but rather an unlimited extension of radicalised and
applied knowledge concerning conditioning and upgrading, pure scientism) nor is
it b) nature (but rather the ultimate civilisational project, ‘mendeling’ itself into the
programme of generic programming at every level.” – Hans Peter Weber, Essays 3
(Berlin: sine causa Verlag, 2008), p. 194.
5 Michel Foucault: “It is no longer possible to think in our day other than in the void
left by man’s disappearance. For this void does not create a deficiency; it does not
constitute a lacuna that must be filled. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than the
unfolding of a space in which it is once more possible to think.” – Michel Foucault,
The Order Of Things – An Archaeology Of The Human Sciences (London: Vintage,
2002), p. 341.


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the self or of human beings, for example imagination, memory, insight
and will power.6 Forces of the outside or civilisational achievements
are artefactural techniques and control techniques as secondary cre-
ative forces. I don’t want to go into too much detail at this point. The
important question for our purposes is the one Deleuze poses concern-
ing the change in the formation of forces, namely: “If the forces within
man compose a form only by entering into a relation with forms from
the outside, with what new forms do they now risk entering into a
relation, and what new form will emerge […]?”7
With this question Deleuze refers to a transformation of a
transformation, a shift in the quality of the transformation or retrograde
evolution. What was not yet visible to him, what he did not or could not
yet write about in the 1980s, is the question of where this change might
occur within the civilisational sphere. Concerning the transformation of
the human form and the social form in this final stage of the retrograde
evolution he considers only the incremental form which results from
the final dis-covery of the noietic physique: the superman form. The
analysis of the cultural conditions which are also transformed under
the pressure of post-historical impulses, intertwining relations such
as human diversification8, civil war, population growth towards the
forces of the outside, silicium (cybernetics) and the genetic components
(genetics), remain largely unconsidered.9

6 Gilles Deleuze in his treatise on Foucault: “Foucault’s general principle is that

every form is a compound of relations between forces. […] the force to imagine,
remember, conceive, wish, and so on. One might object that such forces already
presuppose man; but in terms of form this is not true. The forces within man pre-
suppose only places, points of industry, a region of the existent. In the same way,
forces within an animal (mobility, irritability, and so on) do not presuppose any
determined form. One needs to know with what other forces the forces within man
enter a relation, in a given historical formation and what form is created as a result
from this compound of forces.” – Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 124.
7 Deleuze, Foucault, p. 124.
8 Human diversification can, according to Hans Peter Weber, be seen as the
transformation process of state formations and forces through a new prospect of
human leagues, geared towards diversification: Hans Peter Weber, “Wie spät ist
es?”, Menschenformen (Marburg: Tectum Verlag, 2000).
9 I subscribe in particular to the objections of Hans Peter Weber, namely that under
the Superman-form life, labour and language would only be liberated cynically,
insofar as that life would be set free by the manufacturing competence of machines
of the third kind, of robots and automata, and language by the programming of the
operating/generating codes of computation, while a considerable part of the human
population will be dismissed from labour into a newly formed enormous field of
decadence (into the proliferating redundant or even obsolete service industry and


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The tectonic shift of the human, civilisational and cultural axis per-
meates and radically transforms the inner fabric of human and social
forms. This is what I call the second age of axes.10 This situation is
similar to the Nietzschean image of building a ship while sailing on
the high seas, an image which foregrounds a decisive point not taken
into consideration in anticipating the superman structure: that of the
preservative screening forces which are also subject to change, are
also at the point of disintegration and which therefore must be created
anew. These processes of disintegration are particularly apparent in
the current inflation of crises.
The profound changes that can be expected as a result of the post-
historic civilisational impulses operate at every level: ecological,
political, economic, social, mental, cultural etc. The fact that the age
of axes will also transform concepts and the understanding of what
constitutes the self-conception of the present cannot be overlooked.
What do the conditions of a future constitution of the human-nature-
culture relational field look like? At this point I should like to draw
attention to the immunitary conditions, to the transformation of the
screening forces within the epochal form formations.

The cultural screen

The chaotic processes of ruin (“chaosmatische Abwirtschaftungs­

prozesse”) on an ecological, political, economic, social, and cultural
level are not only evidence of the cracks appearing in the world
edifice of modernity which allow one to glimpse the advance of a
highly accelerated and mobilised civilisational formation with its
superman structures. They are above all evidence of the structural
change within the screening force relations: the age makes explicit its
own immunitary conditions, the working conditions for a humane life
aboard the spaceship earth.

occupational custody). – See Hans Peter Weber, KreaturDenken (Berlin: sine causa,
2006), p. 523.
10 Karl Jaspers coined the term the age of axes to describe the period from 800
to 200 BC, during this period “the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid
simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And
these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.” Karl Jaspers
(2003). The Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press), p. 98


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I would like to briefly sketch a) the screening forces’ mode of opera-
tion b) the reasons for their coming into being and c) their positioning
within the formation of forces.

1. Foucault’s technologies of the self – inner politics

With the term technologies of the self Michel Foucault examined the
process of the constitution of the “self” within the context of its under-
lying historical formations of power. The constitution of the self can
accordingly neither be understood completely through psychological
nor through sociological analyses. Foucault uncovers a force field in
which different forces are in effect. As examples for these forces he
cites, among others, administrative and organisational forces as well
personal forces: the force to imagine or to will. In the field of personal
forces he also sees counterforces at work. These forces cannot be situ-
ated unilaterally, neither within a person nor within society. They act
automorphously, i.e. they only organise themselves within the tension
field of the intrinsic organisation of the mind and the autonomous
sphere of contact.
The intrinsic structuring of the mind and the sphere of contact act
upon each other alternately and the forces that operate within them
are not only similarly differentiated, they are also present in a similarly
disrupted fashion and act in a similarly complex manner. Within this
process some forces and potentials are favoured, in other words a drift
sets in, commonly known as civilisational evolution.

2. Cultural sense

Where and how are the screening forces generated? As is known, not
only felicitous forces act within the mental structures of human exis-
tence. These structures are actually prone to crisis and firmly connected
to notorious stress factors. The screening forces occur retroactively
and in opposition to these stress forces. There is a “cultural sense”
as defined by Hans Peter Weber: a sense similar to the sense of hear-
ing or sight, which is geared towards moments of recovery (moments
of presentification), seeking the chance to temporarily diminish these
notorious stress factors.
There are at least three causes for their occurring, three stress factors
which contribute to the mental situation of human beings’ disposition
towards crisis.


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1. One cause is the “eccentric positionality of the human being”11
(Plessner). Due to their mental constitution humans are capable of
referring to themselves and positioning themselves outside them-
selves. They are self-reflective. Mentally, therefore, people are in a
certain sense never in the present, i.e. they are always also absent.
This absence12 is connected to a lack of restraint within consciousness,
which is thrown back upon itself. This being thrown back upon one-
self is an infliction. The French term for this is ennui which I would
translate as a corrosive feeling of emptiness.
2. A second cause is the advancing “consciousness towards death”
(Heidegger).13 This consciousness is also the price we pay for the self-
reflective abilities of cognition and is also connected to an extremely
frightening consciousness. The horror of being conscious of death
needs no further explanation.
3. The third cause I would like to refer to here is “the shame of being
human” (Deleuze)14. This shame does not refer here to the human
form but rather to the knowledge of the pitiful state of one’s own men-
tal constitution. The shame of being what one is or, to phrase it in a
more Heideggerian mode, what one has been thrown into.
Counter to these three instances of crisis of the neuro-mental consti-
tution, the screening forces come into play. The recording agencies of
mental states are “full of longing for something that has been lost”15.
They are not directed forwards. They do not advance the civilising front.
Jean-Luc Godard has called them the avantgarde’s arrièregarde.16 The

11 Helmuth Plessner, The Levels of the Organic and Man. Introduction to Philosophi­
cal Anthropology (unpublished).
12 Concerning the dimensionality of absence in dance see: Gerald Siegmund,
Abwesenheit – Eine performative Ästhetik des Tanzes. William Forsythe, Jérôme Bel,
Xavier Le Roy, Meg Stuart” (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2006).
13 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by Joan Stambaugh, revised by Dennis
J. Schmidt (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010).
14 Gilles Deleuze, Unterhandlungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1993), pp. 243–253.
15 Elias Canetti, Die Fliegenpein, Aufzeichnungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995),
p.  81. Cannetti writes about the Australian Arandi term Eraritjaritjaka which
expresses precisely this longing. Heiner Goebbels, among others, made this term
the basis of a musical drama in 2004.
16 Bazon Brock, in reference to Jean-Luc Godard, discusses the avant-garde’s arrière-
garde. This arrière-garde’s aim is to prevent certain potential futures. This occurs
through the speculative forestalling of potential futures. He calls this positioning
an avant-gardism of refusal, whose espousal demands the greatest powers of
persuasion and the most immense stamina: Bazon Brock: “We call those artists,
who oppose and resist the apocalyptic prognoses of the future and the futile-seeming
develoments, arrière-gardists.” These proponents of the arrière-garde, according
to Brock, work with the supply of eschatological claims and confront them in the


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processes of civilisational transformation are naturally also driven by
this consciousness of a deficiency within the mental state. The screen-
ing forces act in opposition to the growth of cognitive fitness. But both
are to be understood as a reaction to the deficiency within the mental
state, which is a constitutive lack of (existential) integrity.

3. The civilisatorial process – phantasmatic organisation

The process of civilisatory transformation as described by Deleuze is

driven by the phantasm that all the oppressive and depressing quali-
ties of the real can be dispelled by technical progress. The modern
subject is a constitutive factor of this process, and is understood, as
Peter Sloterdijk has pointed out, mainly as an entrepreneurial impera-
tive. Below the sublimity of subjectivity, the release of entrepreneurial
energies is more vehement than morals or ethics. To be a subject, as
stated by Sloterdijk, is to “participate in the experiments of moder-
nity in the mental formatting of entrepreneurial energies”17. The point
of power, which is concentrated within the subject, is subordinate
above all to the “dynamics of world history” in the “organisation of
disinhibition”18, according to Sloterdijk, with which Europe embarks
upon the subjection of the unlegislated exterior (the farflung coasts of
the Caribbean).19
How, then, are the screening forces transformed within the present
epochal force formation?
Seen historically, it becomes evident that with the beginnings of
modernism as a social formation, art becomes linked to the expression
of the subject and with terms such as freedom, autonomy, truth etc.
This is where the social figure of the artist is invented. It is clear that
the nuclear family arises at the same time as the industrial revolution
and that art forms are subject to the same changes as mass society
and mass civilisations. One excellent example for this is the bourgeois
opera and theatre. In the course of the 20th century the 19th century art

present with future pasts. Pasts are to be conceived as former futures and the
present regarded as tomorrow’s past. The future would then be an imaginative
space in which the interplay of time forms is set in motion imaginatively, that is with
the goal of creating as many options as possible. Bazon Brock, Lustmarsch durchs
Theoriegelände (Köln: Dumont, 2008). Translation mine.
17 Peter Sloterdijk, Weltinnenraum des Kapitals (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2001),
p. 94.
18 See Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären II. Globen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999).
19 Sloterdijk, Weltinnenraum, p. 94.


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forms are split up once again. The opera and the theatre continue to
exist but after two world wars society has changed. Television appears
with its own formats, such as talk shows, soap-operas etc., taking the
place of much of what the opera once stood for. Later phenomena
which I  – rather idealistically  – choose to call art are perceived by
society as being both radical and abstract and are not easily accessible
to the majority: Schönberg, Webern, Cage, Cunningham, Beckett,
Giacometti, Beuys etc.
The radicalisation of the process of civilisation is a challenge to art,
even an overwhelming one. High-modernist art, with its claims to
understanding and expressing the world, positioned within a world
that has become highly complex, is challenged by itself.
How is one to dance against Auschwitz or Hiroshima?
The sheer attempt to “dance against” anything would be naïve! Art
after modernism  – and I think the date 1945 would serve very well
as a point of reference  – had to and must now relinquish its own
irresolvable complexity and retreat. It becomes in a sense truly radical
but it would be more accurate to say it becomes nuclear, focussing
on the core. Beckett’s plays are destilled cores – their greatness lies in
their smallness. Absolute music, absolute art – Merce Cunningham’s
dance could well be termed absolute dance in this sense – cristallises
something from out of the cultural forms of bourgeois art, something
which can also be found in older art forms, for me most discernably
in Bach. Art becoming absolute means it dispels its surrogates, its
representational function, its worldliness and becomes nuclear.
In reference to Foucault Deleuze mentions three ordering civilisational
strategies to describe the historical evolution of society in the last
centuries. These are: the god-dispositve, the human-dispositive and the
superhuman-dispositive. Below these formations there are, however,
by all means some things that persist throughout. Some things remain
over the different ages and cultures, things referred to by the moment
of absolute art, that which can be found over and over again, from
classical antiquity, the Renaissance to contemporary absolute music
and art, as an elemental force within the formation of forces. In
accordance with Hans Peter Weber20, I shall call these forces melos.
The melos survives the strata of various civilisational strategies for it
is anthropomorphically deep-seated! The melos is as deeply rooted as
the logos or nomos. It is an anthropomorphic elementary force. The
melos is a constitutive desire for self-cultivation within the human
mental constitution, a desire to become present, for presentification

20 Hans Peter Weber, Orphisch (Berlin: sine causa Verlag, 2007).


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and mental integrity. It is a sensory organ, a sense directed towards
primary cultural gratification.
Gratification through art is familiar to us. The testimonies of the
arts still posess a residual actuality for us and are still perceived as
small refuges within society. There are still people who sense that
there is something in the arts, that, in exposing oneself to works of
art, reactivates something within themselves. And these people want
to be reactivated culturally. They do not want to be entertained, in
the sense of killing time, which basically means anaesthetising or
killing the sense of nihilism. They do not want anaesthetics, they still
want reactivation even though this is barely possible today for those
inhabiting the higher reaches of civilisation through the medium of art.
It is not feasible in the sense of having a public effect. It cannot create
a public being, that is over now, dissolved.21
The cultural sense, the desire for reactivation, for the non-annihilation
of the present has disappeared from the public sphere and in part from
the private sphere as well.
The disappearance of this culture of presentification in society
has been active in the form of an organised movement for a long
time.22 These are discrete manoeuvres that have worked in the past.
For instance it occurs through educational institutions for masses of
people who have been lead in a one-dimensional direction, namely in
that of patented knowledge. The result is masses of people as living

21 Following Walter Benjamin it is necessary to assert that art in the age of

industrial mass production can only be effective in society as an aestheticisation of
politics (for Benjamin the experience of fascism: the aestheticisation or militarism,
nowadays we must add the experience of the “supermarket”: the aestheticisation
of hyperconsumption), but also as a politicisation of the arts (communism, and
accordingly representational art) and no longer as l’art pour l’art. The demands of
the political economy, the agents of social organisation and communication have
become irreconcilably separated from those of art, a phenomenon that Benjamin
attempts to assert as the loss of “aura”. Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter
seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1980).
22 The result of this disappearance of a culture of presentification leads to what Guy
Debord has attempted to describe in “The Society of the Spectacle”. As the world
becomes a product and thereby a commodity and people learn to see themselves in
the dominant images of need, “man loses his understanding of his own existence
and desires.” […] “The unbridled fulfillment of the will of the commodity rationale
has shown quickly and without exception that the fake’s becoming worldly has lead
to the world’s becoming fake.” Guy Debord, Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels (Berlin,
Edition Tiamat 1996) p. 26 and p. 201, translation mine. The 20th century artists
of the Arrière-garde were given the task of conserving the magic of the world’s
transformation, above and beyond its associations with the spectacle, be they
technological, economic or political.


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resources of knowledge in a decidedly civilised form of productiv-
ity! These are technologies of self-adjustment, of self-manipulation,
of self-conditioning, the “civilisational self-breeding selection which
has already overstepped the biotic level and has attained the neuro-
sensationary level.”23 The public is still unaware that civilisation is
engaged in self-breeding selection.
These are tendencies towards a feralisation, towards a civilisatory
wilderness. Civilisation itself becomes a wilderness, it is a wilderness
of a different kind: a civil-derness, which could also be called a self-
wilderness. Civilisation has fallen not only from a natural state, but
from a cultural state as well. This is the reason why cultural screens
develop: the desire to create mental and cultural integrity. And that is
what I would like to call cultural immune systems, this neuromental
constitutional force. The current transformation in the epochal force
formation leads, as I have mentioned above, to the disintegration of
existing cultural immune systems. Cultural screens are situated within
processes of disintegration. New forms of cultural immunisation must
be created by the agents of cultural sensation out of art’s remaining

An aesthetics of existence

In my previous remarks I have pointed out a differentiation  – that

between the cultural and the civilisational. I did this in order to describe
the quality of existence in the present. I believe that existence always
has a quality. Before it becomes objective or subjective, existence is
intensity.24 The world is approached foremost in a qualitative fashion.
In fact, access to the world is not even access. There is only quality or
intensity and everything else comes later.
Why do I point this out? I think there is a certain difficulty we undergo
when we try to develop an emotional relation to our own existence.
This development of a relationship to one’s own existence is the basis
upon which all of philosophy is grounded. We wake up to a world full
of difference. This awakening is what in philosophy is known as the

23 See Hans Peter Weber, Vom KreaturDenken (Berlin: sine causa Verlag, 2006).
24 I would also subscribe to the connection between the body without organs
and intensity as described by Deleuze/Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: “That is
why we treat the BwO as the full egg before the extension of the organism and the
organisation of the organs […]; as the intense egg defined by axes and vectors, by
gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving energy transformation.”
Deleuze, Guattari, 1987, p. 153.


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experience of contingency. This experience is the boundary of thought
but not of existence. There is a quality of being beyond the experience
of contingency. When we no longer know anything for certain and
everything seems to be mere convention, then that is a condition that
can be frightening (for philosophers it is exhilarating). Therefore, for
pragmatic reasons, I shall differentiate between the quality of existence
and the world of linguistic differences.
In other words, there is an aesthetics of difference. Jacques Rancière
calls this the “first aesthetics”25 which organises the world into a sys-
tem of differences, separating those who can speak from those who
cannot. And then there is an aesthetics of existence, which I claim is
not primarily about difference but about intensities, or rather not about
différance but about coherence.
In the aesthetics of existence there is no objective knowledge, but
rather something which I would like to refer to as Anmutung (seeming).
Subject and world are not separated from one another, which makes
knowing something impossible. But existence prior to difference does
not simply take the form of indifference. It is not indifferent, counter
to what has been repeated over and over again in philosophy. It is the
site of the cultural. There really is something there!
Differences exist as qualities of existence. Qualities do not express
themselves. This means that differences do not create qualities. Differ-
ences are definitely relevant to political aesthetics and existence natu-
rally depends on these “first aesthetics” of the political. But existence
reaches much farther than these aesthetics! We must remember this.
It is a danger of philosophy to think that there is only thought as differ­
entiation and nothing else as if there were nothing but communication
and nothing behind it.
Why do I insist on this differentiation? It is quite simple. There is no
truth on the basis of thought. Political differentiation must be under-
stood via an aesthetics of existence. This means that the aesthetics of
political differentiation should not simply appropriate the aesthetics
of existence. In other words, it is not about dissecting dance into its
political components but rather extending political distinctions using
the experience of dance, dance being about existential gratification.26

25 See Jacques Rancière, Ist Kunst widerständig? (Berlin: Merve, 2008).

26 Gernot Böhme and Sabine Huschka state: ”Dance always follows a choreogra-
phy. The Greek chorós, the Latin chorus (from whence we have the word ‘choir’)
originally meant: place of dance, meaning a separate area where the cult dance for
the gods took place. A further classification is added at the moment of situation:
the chorós is a ‘conceded‘, framed site of the performance and viewing of ‘bodies in
motion’. Choreography also includes the Greek graphós, graphein, to write or rather


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I have said much about the post-historic changes in civilisation and
about the virulence of a cultural screen of the future.27 I would like to
end with an internal image for a possible form such a future cultural
screen might take. A few lines by an existential romantic delineate this
form. Hölderlin writes:

Man has learned much since morning,

For we are a conversation, and we can listen
To one another. Soon we’ll be song.28

to etch and writing. To dance is to write into space, spatial etching, the drawing
and textualisation of space  – not in letters but in the ephemeral, invisible traces
and figures that are produced by the dancers’ motion – appearing and disappear-
ing.” – Hartmut Böhme, Sabine Huschka, ”Prolog”, Wissenskultur Tanz, ed. Sabine
Huschka (Bielefeld: transcript, 2009), p. 13. Stefan Hölscher corrects this negligent
reduction of dance to a formal language belonging to the regime of knowledge (we
cannot call it a culture of knowledge). In accordance with Negri he refers to Spinoza’s
distinction between potestas (formations of power) and potentia (facility) in clas-
sifying the body. If the body, as Spinoza implies, is understood as the potential of a
facility, then there is a shift in the relation between “constitution and constitutional-
ity.” – Stefan Hölscher, unpublished dissertation, December 2010.
27 The cultural screens work along the same lines as arrière-garde art, as a conserv-
ing moment within the anthropic field, which opposes nervous changes and softens
them, makes them easier to assimilate. They are magic and transformation. Their
experience lies beneath linguistic difference, i.e. the are not based on the experience
of difference but that of intensity.
In keeping with Deleuze, this turn towards the experience of intensity must be
understood in relation to a turning away from the attempts of classical thinking to
unify thought within a highest, incontrovertible reason and intepreted as a turning
towards the fragmentary and towards metamorphosis.
In contrast to Deleuze, who understands intensities as an exposing, explosive ele-
ment (the volcano metaphor) of a “being towards becoming”- and thereby towards
a permanent state of departure and mobilisation – here becoming is brought into a
paradoxical state: “revealing” as “harbouring”.
In the understanding of art’s arrière-garde the deleuzian intensities are directed
towards people’s culturality. Thinking culturality is only possible with a rejection of
civilisational fitness-enhancement, neuro-enhancement and body-building.
28 Friedrich Hölderlin, Celebration of Peace (1801–1802) Translated by James Mitchell


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Petra Sabisch

Choreographing Participatory Relations

Contamination and Articulation

The following article is based on the transcript and notes for my lecture
in the Gießen conference “Dance, Politics and Co-Immunity”. Whereas
the first and third part of the lecture were written as a kind of frame,
a passe-partout, the second and main part was articulated instanta­
neously on the basis of notes. In an attempt to account for the problem
of participation and sharing within the field of choreography, dance
studies, and philosophy through an adequate method of presentation,
my contribution to the present anthology of the conference alters this
form of presentation: The argumentative lines of a prepared yet impro­
vised speech have been written out, and the scripted frame becomes the
citation of a lecture choreographed in situ.


Choreography & Participation: What Do We Share Within A Perfor-

In the representative democracy in which I am living, my participa-
tion in politics consists basically in one gesture (I lift my arm as in a
vote) or (I check mark a box), in Germany (I check mark a box twice).
Once, every four years, five, depending on the country in which I am
living. A noble and utterly important gesture, without a doubt – even if
I don’t feel I really have a choice. But I subscribe to this, somehow.1

1 This subscription to democracy is explicitly directed against what Jacques Rancière

calls the “new anti-democratic sentiment.” Whereas my argument here criticizes the
short circuit of equating participation in politics with the mere representation of
political participation, Rancière’s concept of democracy is noteworthy at this point
since it characterizes democracy not as a form of government or society but as an
action: “Democracy is neither a form of government that enables oligarchies to
rule in the name of the people, nor is it a form of society that governs the power
of commodities. It is the action that constantly wrests the monopoly of public life
from oligarchic governments, and the omnipotence over lives from the power of
wealth.” Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, trans. Steve Corcoran (London:
Verso, 2006), pp. 3, 96. For Chantal Mouffe’s critique of the “post-political” and its
“consensual form of democracy,” see Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (London and
New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 3.


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In between these years, I just do something else. I choose, as far
as I can. I work in choreography and in philosophy. Now, from a
choreographic point of view, it is not only that I can imagine some
more gestures, but that I also realize that I have a totally different
understanding of participation, of participating in a society, and this
understanding seems in a certain sense far more political to me. There
is something about this participation that matters to me and that I will
try to speak about today. It is an issue that I became aware of while I
was writing my thesis Choreographing Relations: Practical Philosophy
and Contemporary Choreography.2 It is something which lay beneath
thinking, maybe because it was too obvious. I would like to reformu-
late this issue within the domain I’m concerned with: What do we actu­
ally share within a choreography, a performance? What do we share in
performing thinking, lecturing? What can sharing mean today?
This question steered my research, and it is now that my script

Script of a Lecture Without Script

Relations 1: Choreography and Philosophy

I would like to outline the project of my thesis, Choreographing Rela­

tions, at least the first parts of it, in order to elucidate this question. At
the beginning of my thesis in philosophy I felt the need to question the
relation between contemporary choreography and practical philosophy
so as to grasp my own proceedings within the research. Quickly this
questioning of the relation revealed a problem: How can their relation
be conceptualized without assimilating choreography to philosophy or
vice versa, or, even worse, without exerting philosophical concepts on
choreographic practices in the guise of explaining the latter? What is it
that philosophy might possibly be capable of contributing to choreog-
raphy without speaking for it, in choreography’s place?
As a point of departure, there was the impression of a certain affin-
ity between Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s philosophy and my
personal vision of the contemporary choreographies of Antonia Baehr,
Juan Dominguez, Xavier Le Roy, and Eszter Salamon. In the event
that this affinity really existed, it would have been graspable to some
degree outside of my personal interest for both practices.

2 Petra Sabisch, Choreographing Relations: Practical Philosophy and Contemporary

Choreography in the works of Antonia Baehr, Gilles Deleuze, Juan Dominguez, Félix
Guattari, Xavier le Roy and Eszter Salamon (München: epodium, 2011).


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If one further assumes that it is certainly not the function of phi-
losophy to add “thinking” to choreography, since choreographers can
definitely think on their own, what is it then that philosophy can do?
Deleuze’s answer to this question has become well-known by now:
philosophy’s task is to create concepts.3 Well, how is this relation to
be conceptualized if one critically reassesses the function of philoso-
phy within the discourse of contemporary choreography? How to think
an encounter between contemporary choreography and practical phi-
losophy in which both practices would be irreducible to the other and
resonate productively in their differences?
While ruminating on the choreographies that I saw in the late nineties
and at the turn of the twenty-first century, it turned out that they all
transported a very peculiar idea of choreography: with respect to the
whole work-corpus, each performance proceeded in a very different way
than the preceding and the following one. But more than just differing
from each other, it seemed specific to these choreographies that they
actually developed a different method for each performance.
Saying that these choreographies developed methods consequently
implies another concept of method, a concept according to which
method is no longer the overarching theory that could simply be
applied to a given material. I think one major issue of these choreogra-
phies was precisely this different understanding of method, an under-
standing where each performance in effect becomes the development
of a specific method, a method only for this very piece. Obviously the
objective of the choreographies that compelled me to write a thesis did
not consist in applying ready-made techniques, nor in engaging in vir-
tuosic demonstrations of dance-coded skills, but rather in developing,
with and through the parameters of the performance (e.g. the dispositif
and, as the case may be, the form of collaboration), something which
makes a specific method out of all these relational parameters.
I became intrigued by this idea of proliferating highly specific meth-
ods, itself equally evidenced in the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari:
they are singular assemblages that connect, diverge, and redistrib-
ute alloted or sedimented sense by repeating and differentiating it.4

3 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
Graham Burchell (London: Verso, 2003), pp. 5–34.
4 Deleuze describes this process of conceptualization in relation to his empiricist
method: “Empiricism is by no means a reaction against concepts, nor a simple
appeal to lived experience. On the contrary, it undertakes the most insane creation
of concepts ever seen or heard. Empiricism is a mysticism and a mathematicism of
concepts, but precisely one which treats the concept as object of an encounter, as a
here-and-now, or rather as an Erewhon from which emerge inexhaustibly ever new,


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With regard to these works, it therefore made sense to radically recast
method as singular, experimental, and material practice.5 This intrinsic
linkage to method that subtended the works of my concern actually
clarified the relation between contemporary choreography and practi-
cal philosophy as an encounter in method, that is to say, an encounter
in their difference of methods.
This new concept of method became my point of departure. I wanted
to conceive of the relation between choreography and philosophy in
these terms, because I did not want to assimilate a Deleuzian way
of thinking to choreography or impose choreographic procedures on
philosophy. Their relation is a relation of difference, an encounter in
method, i.e. in the same conception of method as singular, experi-
mental, and material practice, which is differently deployed in each
respective practice: on the one hand, it is actualized in writing, on the
other, in performing – or better, in performing writing and performing
on stage.

Relations 2: Ontology, Its Critique,

and Choreography’s Potential in a Logic of Relations

While starting to write my thesis, I was informed by – as one could

maybe say – the discursive field of dance at that time in which these
experimental choreographies were merely characterized as “non-
dance” or, likewise, as “conceptual dance.” I guess you are familiar
with this problematic. The basic claim was “This is not dance.”6 This
verdict created a huge problem for me. What does it mean to utter
an ontological critique, or more precisely, to negate the ontology of
somebody’s practice? Who can claim the authority to withdraw the
very logic of being, an existential logic, from a practice? Although this
verdict obviously relied on an implicit idea of dance’s identity, it was
not posed as a question but as a neatly negative statement: “This is
not dance!”

differently distributed ‘heres’ and ‘nows.’ Only an empiricist could say: concepts
are indeed things, but things in their free and wild state, beyond ‘anthropological
predicates.’ I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon, from
an always decentred centre, from an always displaced periphery which repeats and
differenciates them.” Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, (London: Con-
tinuum, 2001), p. xix.
5 Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, pp. 21–27.
6 Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, pp. 157–166.


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The implicit assumptions that underpin this judgement are many.
One of the most blatant is the idea that we can and should define
what dance is. What is gained with such definition-based identities?
If, instead, we take up the question and ask “What is dance?” and
think of it as a kind of accumulation of parameters of ingredients that
necessarily should characterize it, we will never come to the point of
accounting for that which is not already there, for that which dance
can also be.
That is why I would like to question the idea, be it in the history of
philosophy or elsewhere, that one could define that which is being by
the being alone.7 A critique of this idea is worth advocating strongly,
because one has to consider the potential of dance, its virtue, in order
to understand how dance actually functions and might also func-
tion differently. All dances of today cannot explain the fact that there
are new dances. After all, how can innovation or transformation be
accounted for with such a tautological definition of dance’s ontology?
To say it clearly: any logic of being that occludes the ontogenetic and
contingent features of that which comes into being can neither explain
nor make a qualitative analysis of transformations and becomings.
Thinking within, through, and around the performances that I had
watched with fascination, I thence wondered how to analyze them. Is
analysis the right term, or an adequate procedure suited to accounting
for choreographies? The complexity of these experimental choreogra-
phies seemed to call for an equally complex method, which I missed
in the dance studies and discourses of the nineties. When attempt-
ing to dissect or grasp a performance in its doing and its effects, it
seemed to me inadequate to speak of its ingredients as static entities,
because all these aspects (e.g. the people in the performance, light,
movement, etc.), once they were summed up as snapshots (e.g. 3 per-
sons, a specific song), can never account for the way a performance
makes sense.
Brian Massumi has critized this methodological problem of thinking
movement in static terms; insisting that it paradoxically ejects the very
idea of movement as a qualitative transformation from the agenda:

The very notion of movement as qualitative transformation is lacking. There

is ‘displacement,’ but no transformation; it is as if the body simply leaps

7 The relation between, on the one hand, Deleuze’s ontogenetic approach (relying
on a theory of the potential of relations) and, on the other, the actant-network theory
by Bruno Latour (relying on an occasionalist concept of time) is most intriguingly
elaborated by Graham Harman in Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics
(Melbourne:, 2009), pp. 99–228.


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from one definition to the next. Since the positional model’s definitional
framework is punctual, it simply can’t attribute a reality to the interval,
whose crossing is a continuity (or nothing).8

Movement as a qualitative change bizarrely slips out of view as soon

as we look at it either as taking place in between two terms, or as
the reductive cinematographic way that Bergson criticized so fervidly,
that is to say, if we cut the movement into slices.9 How, then, could
one approach choreography through that which it actually does with-
out predefining its potential to do otherwise and to innovate its own

Methodology 1: Phenomenology and Theoretical Abstraction

When viewing the existing writings in dance studies at the end of the
nineties, I stumbled upon a problem that seemed to traverse basically
all the texts that I had read; and in all probability my own writings
will not escape from it. Nonetheless, this problem was never directly
addressed: there was no adequate methodology for bridging the gap
between two ways of writing about choreography.

8 Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham/
London: Duke Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 3–4.
9 For Henri Bergson’s critique of the cinematographic mechanism as mere snap-
shots of movement, see. Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New
York: Dover Publications, 1998), p. 308: “The movement slips through the interval,
because every attempt to reconstitute change out of states implies the absurd propo-
sition, that movement is made of immobilities.” As for Bergson’s insight into the
indivisibility of movement, which is closely related to his own and Deleuze’s con-
cept of becoming, see Bergson, “The Perception of Change,” in Henri Bergson: Key
Writings, ed. Keith Ansell Pearson and John Mullarkey, trans. Mabelle L. Andison
(London: Continuum, 2005), pp. 264–265: “Let us, on the contrary, endeavour to
perceive change as it is in its natural indivisibility: we see that it is the very substance
of things, and neither does movement appear to us any longer under the vanishing
form which rendered it elusive to thought, nor substance with the immutability
which made it inaccessible to our experience. Radical instability and absolute immu-
tability are therefore mere abstract views taken from outside of the continuity of real
change, abstractions which the mind then hypostatises into multiple states on the
one hand, into thing or substance on the other.” For Deleuze’s reading of and com-
mentaries on Bergson, see in particular his book Bergsonism, trans. Hugh Tomlinson
and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Zone Books, 2002); and the first volume of his
cinema books, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara
Habberjam (London: The Athlone Press, 2001), pp. 1–12, 56–70.


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The first way consists in approaching performance through a more or
less thick description of the perception of the performance. As many of
you saw Saša Asentić’s performance My private biopolitics yesterday,10
the performance may serve as an example: It intersects the story of
some decisive moments in Asentić’s biographical trajectory – e.g. leav-
ing theatre for dance, telling his failure in reciting a dramatic text to
his ease in movement and his growing success as a choreographer
who tours from East to the “international West” – with a performative
play that critically questions his specific currency as a contemporary
and critical Balkan dancer within the Western European context and
conventions of importing critique. If one tries to describe this perfor-
mance only in aesthetic terms, that is, in a purely phenomenological
manner, one will never be able to account for what it does.11 In other
words, a purely phenomenological thinking  – however worthy it is
and however far it can be pushed – dismisses the performance in two
ways: not only can it never reach that point which forces us to perceive
the perceptible (to speak here in a Deleuzian way); moreover, it is not
a methodological guarantee for a sufficient perception of the way the
performance is produced.12
Although the parameters of artistic production themselves (the pro-
duction means, the artistic process and its distribution) might appear
in various aspects of an analysis based on perception, they cannot suf-
ficiently be grasped through the phenomenological instrumentarium.
Even in Asentić’s performance, where the production process and
issues of distribution are core to the performance, one can say in any
case that they are quite perceptible and palpable, the problem persists
because the perception of the parameters concerning production does
not entail the very conditions of this production.
Following the readings of Marx or the scholarship of political econ-
omy, this thought becomes quite evident from the other side; for a
mere change in the content of a product does not mean that labor or
the capitalist system would necessarily be affected.13 As a matter of

10 See Saša Asentić’s text in this volume.

11 The performance My private biopolitics by Saša Asentić, premiered in 2007,
was shown within the frame of the conference. It is authored and performed by
Saša Asentić, assisted by Olivera Kova²evi²-Crnjanski; with theoretical support and
dramaturgy by Ana Vujanović. Production: Per.Art, Novi Sad. Coproduction: Centre
National de la Danse, Paris; Theorem Dance Residencies, The FaMa in Belgrade &
Dubrovnik. The piece is accessible on the website http://www. search/search?q=my+private+biopolitics
12 This issue is taken up in Bojana Cvejić’s text.
13 Karl Marx, “Productive and Unproductive Labour,” (Addendum 2, Capitalist
Production as the Production of Surplus Value), in Economic Works 1861–1864,


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fact, there is always an expression of the production process within
a choreography, but one cannot deduce the conditions of production
from it. Accordingly, there is something about the way in which a
performance is produced by means of the potential of what choreog-
raphy can do which remains unnamed in a purely phenomenological
perspective. This does not necessarily mean that one has to abandon
perception theories altogether. Quite the contrary …
On the other hand, one has to reconsider a theoretical phenomenon
of abstraction, or more concretely, the phenomenally practical effects of
theories about dance. Imagine you are a theoretician who is compelled
to think by a performance. You want to understand and grasp the
performance, which you really think shows Derrida’s trace. It could
equally be Deleuze’s becoming, of course; the gesture remains the
same. It is a gesture that neither really conceptualizes choreography nor
shares a really new thought with choreography. It just functions in the
system you are busy with by imposing this system onto choreography
and by giving legitimacy to your own gesture. What would be the merit
of transposing choreography into another system that you happen to be
busy with just in order to explain choreography through this theoretical
system? I had the weird impression that a lot of texts proceeded in this
way: by assimilating a concrete choreography to a given theory, or by
using a concept in order to explain the choreography according to the
theoretical implementations of the concept.
Now, this gesture is highly problematic, unless we agree to a colo-
nial relationship between theory and practice. If, on the other hand,
we understand theory as the viewing, reconsideration, and develop-
ment of heterogeneous apparatuses, dimensions, and concepts that
proceed from within a real practice, and furthermore if we understand
methodology as a process which provides the conditions for this very
procedure, that is to say, as an encounter on an equal basis, then, and
only then, does it seem to me worth engaging in theories and concepts
of choreography. works/1864/economic/ch02b.htm#484:
“It emerges from what has been said so far that to be productive labour is a quality
of labour which in and for itself has absolutely nothing to do with the particular
content of the labour, its particular usefulness or the specific use value in which it is
expressed. [484] Labour with the same content can therefore be both productive and
unproductive.” For Deleuze’s involvement in Marxist theory, see e.g. Difference and
Repetition, p. 186, as well as Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (London:
Routledge, 2003), especially the “Introduction” on Deleuze’s project “La Grandeur
de Marx.”


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Given these confines of perception (as regards the conditions of
production) and theory (as regards concretion, empirical work, and
real distributions of power), both approaches remain somehow unsat-
isfactory: Whereas the phenomenological approach cannot account,
methodologically speaking, for the production process, the theoreti-
cal approach becomes insignificant without contextual concretion,
becomes upsetting when abstracting from equality, and is not far-
reaching enough to grasp that which forces it to think. It seems that
nothing is gained unless one considers the relation between these two
approaches, a relation that would bind theory back to experience with-
out falling prey to either phenomenological reduction or theoretical
profusion devoid of any material tie.

Relation 3: The Relation with the Audience

When trying to think the relation between both approaches, the core
question pops up again: what is it that is actually performed in a per-
formance? I will anticipate my answer here, which actually came very
late: from my point of view, it is the relation with the audience that is
performed within a performance. I was already thinking in relations,
and of course one can think the whole performance as a relational
assemblage. However, in order to grasp the specificity of choreography
and the performing arts, one has to conceive of this relation (gestur­
ing toward the audience), to account for it methodologically. What a
performance actually works with is precisely the relation we are in at
this moment.
There is a book by Rodolphe Gasché that is key to this matter of rela-
tions in which the author reassesses the century-old philosophical dis-
cussions about the ontology of relations, that is, the question whether
these relations exist or not, whether they are real or not, whether they
have substance or not. I would like to quote a passage from this book
for two reasons: first, because Gasché steps away from the opaque
necessity of pinpointing the minimal ontological quanta needed to
make a relation interesting for a philosopher, and second, because his
critique of the ontological debates has an interesting double feedback
onto the aforementioned context of dance’s ontology. In this quote,
Gasché explains how his book Of Minimal Things proceeds:

If Of Minimal Things takes on the question of relation, the investigation is

not framed by any preliminary decision concerning its ontological status. In
spite of the title’s allusion to the Scholastic theories of relation, relation will
not be understood here as a (relative) thing, as a thing, more precisely, that is


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ontologically deficient compared to the existence attributed to substance. Nor
is this study an investigation into entities that, because they are extramental
rather than internal, enjoy at least the status of minuscule things. In what
sense do I speak here of ‘minimal things’? Rather than indicating a deficient
mode of being or referring to things that barely have being, ‘minimal things’
refers here, first, to the smallest, hence most elemental issues or matters
of concern to philosophical thought. Relation, the title suggests, is one of
the most (if not the most) extreme of philosophy’s topics. It is a minimal
thing not because it is the least possible thing but because it constitutes the
philosophical ‘thing’ in the sense of issue and matter of concern at its most
minute. Relation could thus be considered the most basic and simple of all
philosophical problems.14

I thought that this perspective on relations was more than interesting

for my research, especially because it refused preliminary decisions
about their ontological status and thus allowed a focusing of relations
as a constitutive and supremely productive “matter of concern” for
philosophy. Associating these thoughts with my conception of cho-
reography, I realized how important it is, then, not to stop thinking
choreography at this very borderline (pointing to the fourth wall), but
to commit to the problem of how this relation (stretching my arms out
toward the audience) can be conceptualized. On a second glimpse,
Gasché’s critique of ontology’s classical procedure (in other words,
to sort out in a first step whether relations can be said to exist or
not) resonated with my critique of a dance ontology which barred the
experimental choreographies of Baehr, Dominguez, Le Roy, and Sala-
mon by mere judgment. This resonance enabled me to shift the focus
to the qualitative transformations of these performances.15
Closely related to this aspect, which considers relations in their
qualitative delicacy before subtracting them from the agenda, is
Gasché’s insight into relations as being constitutive for a “matter of
concern.” Hence it is implied that you cannot speak about anything
that catches your attention or interest without relating to it. In the
moment when I find an interest in something, when I am intrigued by

14 Rodolphe Gasché, Of Minimal Things: Studies on the Notion of Relation (Stanford,

Calif: Stanford Univ. Press, 1999), p. 4.
15 These qualitative transformations, which characterize the methodological query
of my thesis, strongly call to mind Miriam Engelhardt’s book—in particular the first
chapter—that I discovered only after my publication: Engelhardt, “Veränderung
als Bewegungsbegriff,” in Deleuze als Methode. Ein Seismograph für theoretische
Innovationen durchgeführt an Beispielen des feministischen Diskurses (München:
Wilhelm Fink, 2008), pp. 19–36.


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something, I enter into composition with a relation. Consequently, one
cannot speak of relations without naming one’s own interest in them.
It is in this sense that a thinking of relations implies my involvement as
much as my reflection of it. I reformulated this quite complicated affair
for myself: without relations things are essentially stuck.

Participation: What do we share within a performance?

My argument was to think choreography in relations. So, we have

relations and we have relational assemblages, choreographies. Yet in
which way can one think the whole of this relational assemblage, cho-
reography’s assemblage, as a singular one? I have argued beforehand
that the performances by Baehr, Dominguez, Le Roy, and Salamon
were, from my point of view, singular, experimental, and material
practices that elaborate a method immanent to these practices. In
this context the word singular refers to a multiplicity, an assemblage,
whose dynamic components and relational connections actualize in a
singularity. Regarding the relation that a performance constitutes with
the audience, one can say: to relate in a specific way to the audience
implies a particular commitment to the issue of participation in theater
practice, a commitment that critically questions and reassesses what
can be shared through choreography.16 It is in this sense that the sin-
gular links up with the experiment: how can singular assemblages with
the audience be created?
In a nutshell, my claim is that the relations, or better, the relational
assemblages choreography actually composes with the audience are
singular ones when the potential actualizes in modes of perception,
modes of production, always intertwined, which then become singu­
lar offers of participation for the audience. Speaking of a relation as
singular offer, or better, mode of participation implies a certain way
of thinking agency, as much as participation takes on an altogether
new meaning, to which I will return later.17 Let me just say at this
point that it implies models of agency according to which passivity is
not the opposite of action, and watching is not the opposite of doing;
instead, both participate, partially and simultaneously, in agency and
are perhaps unequal with regard to role but not unegalitarian in terms
of participation.18 From this point I developed two concepts which aim

16 Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, p. 18.

17 See the last part of this text.
18 In regard to these models of agency, Deleuze’s assemblage theory (agencement)
and the actant-network theory of Bruno Latour seems most productive to me; see


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to take into account this problem of writing about dance and concep-
tualizing participation and agency. First I wanted to find words, con-
cepts, ways of speaking about the qualitative transformation of bodies,
and second, about the qualitative transformations of sense. The reason
for these two interrelated concepts lies in the problem I had with the
implicit assumptions concerning qualitative transformations of bodies
and sense in the texts about dance that I had read.

Methodology 2: What Can Choreography Do?

1. Contamination

The first concept of my thesis is contamination. Within this conference

about the co-immunity of dance and politics, some aspects of con-
tamination have already been named, such as the idea of immunitary
systems, in which contamination appeared mostly as life-threatening
counter-agent to immunity, as well as the idea of a permeability of a
dynamic and complex immune system. Quite different from a threat,
but close to the idea of a certain permeability, my approach to this
issue was set off by a lecture-performance by Xavier Le Roy called
Product of Circumstances, by which I felt contaminated.19
Shortly afterwards I was invited to write an article about this
performance, which allowed me to think the issue of contamination
through the rhetorical context of figurations and defigurations.20 At

Bruno Latour, Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge,
Mass./ London, England: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 288: “Action is not
what people do, but is instead the ‘fait-faire,’ the making-do, accomplished with
others in an event, with the specific opportunities provided by the circumstances.”
According to Deleuze, an assemblage is “a multiplicity which is made up of many
heterogeneous terms and which establishes liaisons, relations between terms, across
ages, sexes and reigns—different natures. Thus, the assemblage’s only unity is that
of co-functioning: it is a symbiosis, a ‘sympathy.’ It is never filiations which are
important, but alliances, alloys; these are not successions, lines of descent, but
contagions, epidemics, the wind.” See Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues
II, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London and New York: Con-
tinuum, 2006), p. 52.
19 See Xavier le Roy, Product of Circumstances, 1999. For the literature on this
performance, see Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, p. 32. For my analysis of the
performance, see pp. 32–66.
20 See Petra Sabisch, “Körper, kontaminiert. Ein Versuch mit Randnoten zur Per-
formance ‘Product of Circumstances’ von Xavier le Roy,” in de figura. Rhetorik –
Bewegung – Gestalt, ed. Gabriele Brandstetter and Sibylle Peters (München: Wilhelm
Fink, 2002), pp. 311–326.


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this time, I thought my response to this question could only take place
on a subjective level. Then I made a lecture-performance about it enti-
tled Contaminated, leading me somewhere else.21 And finally, having
written my thesis on this problem, I’m still not sure whether I have
exhausted the question.
In this context of contamination it is of utmost relevance  – also
concerning today’s presentations on the nature of problems, problems
of production and procedures of work  – to think the very moment
by which you are compelled to do something. There are different
names for such a crucial urge. I decided to think about it in terms of
contamination, in the sense of an assemblage of different relations, a
sense that Artaud unfolds in Theatre and the Plague:

Just as it is not impossible that the unconsumed despair of a lunatic screaming

in an asylum can cause the plague, so by a kind of reversibility of feelings
and imagery, in the same way we can admit that outward events, political
conflicts, natural disasters, revolutionary order and wartime chaos, when
they occur on a theatre level are released into the audience’s sensitivity with
the strength of an epidemic.22

In the model of medicine, contamination normally designates a

radioactive radiation, a disease, a contagion which can even be lethal,
something that at the very least seriously impairs corporeal functions.
Thinking about the implications of such transformations, I wondered
what is happening in a contamination and started to consider the
model of a virus. Imagine a body amidst other bodies; there’s an envi-
ronment and all of a sudden a virus is floating around and you incor-
porate this kind of “foreign body” into your own body, to speak here
with the metaphors of immunology. The term contamination, how-
ever, is used only for what follows. According to the medical model of
a contamination, it basically takes into account the negative effects of
a transformation.
This fact compelled me to think the moment of a contamination
itself. Methodologically speaking, science is still not capable of grasp-
ing this particular moment. I probably won’t be able to give a final
response to this complicated question either. Still, it is interesting to
question a concept of contamination in terms of time. What is the

21 For the lecture-performance Contaminated, see e.g. Pirkko Husemann, “P.S.:

Kontaminiert: Gedanken zur Aufführung einer Nachschrift,” http://www.unfriendly-, Access: 7 February 2005.
22 Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double, trans. Victor Corti (London: Calder
& Boyars, 1981), p. 16–17.


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t­iming of a contamination precisely if we think it in relational assem-
blages and in complex structures? We know that contaminations can
have long-lasting consequences, yet does contamination really happen
in the very moment or could it also act within duration? As a slow pro-
cess? Another direction for thought would be to think of contamination
in terms of production.
The next step in reflecting contamination as a form of transformation
led me to think of theatre and, more precisely, about the model of
catharsis as a specific relation to the audience in theatre. The model of
catharsis as a transformation is juxtaposed to a concept of contamination:
it literally signifies purification. What happens in the discourse on
catharsis? In the theoretical discourses on catharsis you can be very
affected as a spectator, but this affect does not really transform the
subject. Erika Fischer-Lichte has pointed out this fact when reviewing
the connotative undercurrents in the discourses on catharsis: somehow
the subject always remains intact. This fact is indeed questionable
for me. What does intact mean? Catharsis transports an image of a
transformation which is just an interior redirection of something which
then disappears.23 A transformation without physical harm. Catharsis,
thus, turns out to be the exact opposite of a contamination, since it only
takes up the positive effects of a transformation: the affect-showered,
educated citizen leaves the theater.
I wanted to think the following question: what happens if we do
not separate transformation and effects? Without knowing whether
this is possible, and whether I will manage to do so, I wondered about
an appropriate instrumentarium for it. The concept of contamination
became intrinsically linked to this thought-operation; it became its
name. And, if we go further back, beyond this separation of transfor-
mation and effect, trying to understand the contamination of a body
within its environment and the relations that compose it – and it is of
course Spinoza who allowed us to think the body in relations24 – then

23 Erika Fischer-Lichte, “Zuschauen als Ansteckung” in Ansteckung. Zur Körper­

lichkeit eines ästhetischen Prinzips, ed. Fischer-Lichte, Mirjam Schaub and Nicola
Suthor (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2005), p. 49.
24 Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley, introduction Stuart
Hampshire (London: Penguin, 1996). For the definition of the body as power to
affect and to be affected, see, for example, 70 (III, D3) and 569 (IV, 39 Proof). For
Spinoza’s letter on “blood and lymph” in which he explains the body’s relations to
the exterior circumstances and forces, see Spinoza, “Letter 32,” in Complete Works,
trans. Samuel Shirley, ed. Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Company, 2002), p. 849: “Hence it follows that every body, insofar as it exists as
modified in a definite way, must be considered as a part of the whole universe, and
as agreeing with the whole and cohering with the other parts. Now since the nature


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a contamination no longer appears to be the mere negative effect of a
virus: it is first of all constitutive of any life. A contamination allows
for assemblages, alliances, and relations of all kind, and that is the
reason why I try to outline a concept of contamination as the power
to assemble.
One can thus say that the concept of contamination poses the
issue of catharsis anew, though neither in terms of the psychologi-
cal reorganization of a preceding subject nor in terms of a tangible
effect without consequences. Instead contamination ties the disrup-
tive effect of catharsis back to the transformations through which it
emerged. It indicates the manner in which the spectators are involved
and affected  – even at the threshold of perception – without being
effected. As the power to assemble, contamination is the intrinsic rela-
tion to an exteriority; it constitutes a middle, a milieu, which undoes
the dichotomies of internal and external, productive and receptive,
material and immaterial.
Another interesting aspect appears when thinking contamination in
terms of an involuntary participation. When conceptualizing contami-
nation within the frame of choreography, my claim is definitely not
that a performer or a performance would actually want to contaminate
me. Nor do I want to dip deeper into the discourse, where it is enough
to conclude a show with phrases like “I was utterly touched by it.” It
is crucial here – and I insist on the importance of this dimension – that
theory takes into consideration this particular impetus, from which I
actually start to act and think. Methodologically and de facto, it rarely
does so.
I cannot lay out this aspect here in its entirety, but this is precisely
what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari did in their collaborative books
with their method of transcendental empiricism: this is exactly the
project.25 Let me just give you Marc Rölli’s concise formula, which
adeptly portrays Deleuze and Guattari’s transcendental empiricism:
“Hence the sensible can only be thought if it is ideally conceived as that
which can only be sensed.”26 It recommits to the problem of empiri-

of the universe, unlike the nature of the blood, is not limited, but is absolutely
infinite, its parts are controlled by the nature of this infinite potency in infinite ways,
and are compelled to undergo infinite variations.”
25 For my analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s method of trancendental empiricism,
which subtends all of their writings, see Sabisch, “Transcendental Empiricism:
Deleuze and Guattari’s method,” in Choreographing Relations, pp. 67–93.
26 Marc Rölli, Gilles Deleuze. Philosophie des transzendentalen Empirismus (Vienna:
Turia & Kant, 2003), p. 37 [translation by the author]. See also Rölli, “Virtuality and
Actuality: A Note on Deleuze’s Concept of the Event,” in Deleuzian Events: Writing/
History, ed. Hanjo Berressem and Leyla Haferkamp (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2009), p. 75:


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cism, namely that one can neither derive our experience only from
the experience, nor deduce thinking from thought alone.27 We have to
think that which forces us to think and oblige this thought to engage
with the empirical at the same time as the empirical is already engaged
in this thinking. One could also say that they are inseparable, other-
wise thinking would stop being thinking. Committing to this obligation
in writing concepts means the following: consider that which makes
you write these concepts and put this very concern into the concept.
This is how Deleuze thinks: reach out for that which insists in its
repeating differently.

It was the same with sensibility: the contingently imperceptible, that which
is too small or too far for the empirical exercise of our senses, stands opposed
to an essentially imperceptible which is indistinguishable from that which
can be sensed only from the point of view of a transcendental exercise. Thus
sensibility, forced by the encounter to sense the sentiendum, forces memory
in its turn to remember the memorandum, that which can only be recalled.
Finally, the third characteristic of transcendental memory is that, in turn, it
forces thought to grasp that which can only be thought, the cogitandum or
noeteon, the Essence: not the intelligible, for this is still no more than the
mode in which we think that which might be something other than thought,
but the being of the intelligible as though this were both the final power of

“The new image of thought envisioned by Deleuze is distinguished by thinking

thought only with regard to its encounter with signs that perplex and stimulate it,
that affect it from the outside and force it to act. The initial point of this process
is the being of the sensible, sensations or affects, whose degree of intensity is the
result of passive synthesis of singular points that are not mentally coordinated. The
sensations that can only be sensed are not to be classically interpreted as immediate
givens of consciousness. They elude representation and thus are not the subject of
a simple, but of a radical empiricism.” In this translation as well as throughout my
thesis, the English term sensible is used in terms of that which relates to the work
of the senses and to that which makes sense. For a commentary on this usage, see
Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, p. 7, fn. 3.
27 For Deleuze’s notion of the transcendental and the virtual, see Rölli, Deleuze.
Philosophie des transzendentalen Empirismus, p. 40: “With the notion of the Virtual,
[Deleuze] succeeds in conceiving a transcendental region that does not evolve from
doubling the empirical and therefore does not determine the a priori order-forms
of experience as abstract domain of possibility. The essential difference is localized
where the transcendental differs from the empirical and the virtual from the actual.
This difference does not preclude the actualization of the virtual structures and the
determination of the transcendental conditions as genetic conditions of experience.
Nonetheless the empirical results of these constituting procedures do not match the
procedures themselves.” [translation by the author].


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thought and the unthinkable. The violence of that which forces thought
develops from the sentiendum to the cogitandum.28

Implicating this impetus of thought within thought also leads us to

that metaphysical point of any acting that Oliver Marchart sets forth in
his text in this volume: to pose yourself as if I were the subject of my
actions.29 It is this crucial aspect that transcendental empiricism allows
the thinking of, thereby touching on the very limits of subjectivity and

2. Articulation

My second response to the question What Can Choreography Do? is

this: it can articulate. I will now move to this second concept of my
thesis, articulation, which concerns the qualitative transformations of
Returning to the question of how to write about dance and
performance, I reviewed the existing methods in dance and performance
studies. There was a broad range of methods, but I couldn’t do away
with a profound reservation concerning the very point of departure of
these methods, that is, their inexplicit catalogue of assumptions: what
does it mean if we speak about a performance by saying that it stages
a concept, transmits a message, or that something speaks out of it? My
problem with this way of approaching choreography is that it reduces
choreography to language, to a semiological manner of speaking about
things.31 In his cinema books, Gilles Deleuze has clearly spelled out
this critique of a semiological reduction with respect to cinema.32 If one
argues that cinema equals an utterance, one changes the materiality
of cinema as much as its matter of concern. I was perplexed when
realizing that a lot of texts followed this schematic equation between
choreography and language without questioning it.
However, leaving this critique aside, how can we speak about chore-
ography? Obviously it is not my claim not to speak anymore. What is it
actually that makes sense in choreography? How can one implicate the

28 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 177.

29 See Oliver Marchart’s text in this volume.
30 For the following argumentation, see Sabisch, Choreographing Relations,
pp. 95–143.
31 Sabisch, Choreographing Relations, pp. 98–100.
32 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert
Galeta, (London and New York: Continuum, 2008), p. 26.


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very affect through which the choreographic procedure differentiates,
this power to assemble that I have named contamination? Alterna-
tively, one might think toward deviating the problematic underpin-
nings of semiological conceptions of sense when basing the analysis
of choreography on the analysis of movement. There are a lot of inter-
esting methods for movement analyses, for example, Labanotation.33
However, the moment you presuppose movement as method for your
analysis, you run into the same erroneous assumptions. Imagine, for
example, applying movement analysis to the performance of Saša
Asentić and you will find out quickly that it does not lead far.
Something at the very basis of these methods had to be rethought,
and, more precisely, this something concerned the relation between
language and movement. Articulation, so it seemed to me, allowed for
a moving away from a representative way of thinking dance according
to which the methodology actually depends on a preliminary decision
about the object of this qualitative transformation of sense.
Maybe I can best explain my idea by describing an image that
appeared right in the beginning of my thesis when tackling this prob-
lem. Imagine bending an arm in whatever way. Like this, or like this
(repeat the voting gesture from the beginning). A double movement
becomes visible in an articulation: one in which you perceive the
whole arm, and another one in which you focus on its segmentation
into parts. This image triggered my interest, because when doing this
(bending my arm) there is no reason for my shoulder to represent my
hand. More generally speaking, it is extremely difficult to think repre-
sentation in terms of articulation.
Another interesting aspect concerns the characterization of an articu-
lation: for an articulation to be characterized, it is not enough to describe
a positional change of my hand to my shoulder. What makes this articu-
lation happen and what defines it depends on how I articulate, whether
I use muscular force, for example, (show the movement with muscular
force), a torsion (do it with a torsion), or fluidity (accordingly). Con-
sequently, the characteristic features are tied up in the intensity of an
articulation, in the quality of transformation within the articulation.

33 Rudolf von Laban’s cinetography, also entitled Labanotation, relies itself on a

dynamic and vectoral sign that relates to the kinesphere of the body. Moreover,
Laban’s cinetography entails a broad range of signs for intensity, scales of verve,
gradients of lability, side-currents, and inclinations, which make it most interest-
ing for a philosophy of differential relations. See Rudolf von Laban, Kinetografie–
Labanotation. Einführung in die Grundbegriffe der Bewegungs- und Tanzschrift, ed.
and rev. Claude Perrottet (Wilhelmshaven: Noetzel, 1955); and Principles of Dance
and Movement Notation (London: Macdonald & Evans, 1956).


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However, this initial image of a physical articulation, which helped
thinking the relation between its segmented parts in terms of differ-
entiation and quality, could not suffice yet for a methodology, since
it would merely posit a physical counterparadigm to the semiologi-
cal model. It would be a methodological antithesis which finally can-
not account for the transformation of sense within a performance, or
for the transformation of the expression of a performance. Scrolling
through concepts of sense and concepts of signs, I decided to elaborate
the way in which Saussure’s semiological sign-concept essentially dif-
fers from Deleuze’s sign concept.34 I was thinking of Saussure not only
because he was the founding father of semiology, but also because he
was very concerned with the material implications of his sign concept,
although he was eventually unsuccessful at maintaining the material
part of the sign.
Deleuze, for his part, actually shifts the meaning and the impact of
signs in his concept of the sign. Deleuze goes further and, with regard
to this presentation, one could say that he embeds the contamination
of the sign in the sign. Accordingly, he argues that a sign is not what
it signifies, but, to make a long story short, a sign of intensity. In this
sense the Deleuzian sign can be said to signal a “deterritorialization or
a reterritorialization” before it signifies something.35
Saussure’s concept of the sign, on the contrary, functions quite dif-
ferently. In order to explain his concept of the sign Saussure uses the
image of a sheet of paper. On the recto of this sheet of paper is the
signified concept, whereas the verso stands for the signifying phonic
or material side. According to this image of a sheet of paper, the two
sides of the paper, recto and verso, are glued together. Yet the prob-
lem with this image is that you cannot think the glue. According to
­Saussure, making a sign through the utterance of language means cut-
ting a certain form out of this sheet of paper; a form in which the sig-

34 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, ed. Charles Bally and

Albert Sechehaye, with the assistance of Albert Riedlinger, trans. Roy Harris
(Chicago: Open Court, 1986). As for the critical edition, see de Saussure, Cours de
linguistique générale, ed. Rudolf Engler, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1967).
35 It is precisely in relation to artworks that Deleuze develops his concept of the
sign as an intensity which strikes us. See Deleuze, Proust and Signs, trans. Richard
Howard (London: Allen Lane; Penguin, 1973), p. 29: “A work of art is worth more
than a philosophical work; for what is enveloped in the sign is more profound than
all the explicit significations. What does violence to us is richer than all the fruits
of our good will or of our conscious work …” As signs of intensities, they are, as
Deleuze and Guattari argue “signs of deterritorialization and reterritorialization.”
See Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. and foreword Brian Massumi (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 75.


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nified already matches the sound image. What makes these two sides
become adhesive and glue together escapes from this theory.
This aspect is highly important and, again, it is with Deleuze that
one can pinpoint this argument: we have to think that which actually
compels us to receive a sign. So we are thrown back again into think-
ing ourselves in a relational assemblage, experiencing the differences
in the way we can conceive signs. It is important, then, to go a step
further, not only to ask how to make sense, which is Deleuze’s argu-
ment, but to explain how to make sense with signs. In other words,
to explain how the Deleuzian concept of the sign as an intensity can
signify. If I only take the Deleuzian sign as material verso of the signi-
fying part of the sign or as the reason for the sheet of paper, I cannot
explain this signification. That’s the point where a concept of topol-
ogy becomes necessary. As a branch of mathematics, topology tries
to characterize dynamic and differential spaces which are no longer
determined through static properties but through the way in which
they are affected by qualitative transformations.36
Although I have to shorten here, let me mention that articulation is
double in two ways: it entails, firstly, the double movement of differ-
entiation and composition and, secondly, a double articulation of con-
tent and expression, both of which continuously feed back into each
other. As much as through the differences in intensity, the articulation
proceeds through a differential composition which has to be concep-
tualized in a topological way that is abstract enough to preclude the
splitting up of signification and embodiments.
What can this articulation do? From my perspective, it relates back
to the initial question of opening the field of dance to other articulatory
practices, of thinking differences and how they actually compose with
differential systems, and, last but not least, of leveling the hierarchy
between linguistic and movement practices. Both concepts, contami-
nation and articulation, can thus determine the processes in which we
are permanently assimilating exterior stuff and enable a thinking of
relational assemblages in both directions: as an opening that allows
for assembling (contamination) and as a differentiation or individua-
tion that becomes explicable through the notion of articulation. In this
sense, the concept of contamination and articulation become recipro-
cally linked, and it is their relation, their differential, which allows for
accessing choreography with a methodological consistency that does
not rely on values attributed preliminarily.

36 Sabisch, “How to Make Sense with Differential Compositions: Toward a Topology

of Articulations,” Choreographing Relations, pp. 129–143.


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Choreography & Participation. Beyond Representation: Participation

and the Sensible

Often, we understand by participation an active or voluntary decision,

such as in the vote. But isn’t that a highly restricted notion of partici-
pation? Since participation, once we go beyond its representations, is
something entirely richer. We participate in many ways in this society,
ways which function differently, which are sometimes anything but
deliberate. There are involuntary participations. They are involuntary
not because we don’t want them, but because they don’t need our will
to operate. Invisible operations, participations, which often gain their
visibility through the body when we suffer from something, when our
schizophrenia finally becomes apparent, or when there are intercel-
lular migrations of other kinds.
There are molecular participations, osmotic relations, minimal
procedures, constitutive of our bodies, but still extremely difficult to
understand in their interplay, in their complexity. We are permanently
appropriating exterior stuff into the relational assemblages we are, them-
selves echoing within the environment, relating to our circumstances,
becoming circumstances of something else . . . whether or not we are
able to conceptualize all of these, we already partake in them with
every breath. Now, closely interrelated to these involuntary or molecu-
lar participations, there are intensive participations that Deleuze calls
“unnatural participations”37: We feel, we are affected, we love, we are
utterly compelled by something, contaminated. All of these are qualita­
tive transformations, becomings, alliances with contingent encounters.

37 See Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 266–267: “We oppose epi-
demic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by contagion to sexual reproduc-
tion, sexual production. Bands, human or animal, proliferate by contagion, epidem-
ics, battlefields, and catastrophes. Like hybrids, which are in themselves sterile,
born of a sexual union that will not reproduce itself, but which begins over again
every time, gaining that much more ground. Unnatural participation or nuptials
are the true Nature spanning the kingdoms of nature. Propagation by epidemic, by
contagion, has nothing to do with filiation by heredity, even if the two themes inter-
mingle and require each other. The vampire does not filiate, it infects. The differ-
ence is that contagion, epidemic, involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous: for
example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a micro-
organism. Or in the case of a truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These ­combinations are
neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations.”


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Lastly, there is our involvement within economies.38 We participate
in very different, heterogeneous economies indeed: the economy of a
body is different from an art market, for example. The economy of the
cell differs entirely from the economy of a feeling, which differs from
the economy of a performance. All of these ­participations are “pro-
ductive” all the time, but what does this mean? Can we speak about
these participations in a non-esoteric way that differs from saying that
everything constantly transforms into something else, itself modulat-
ing into something else which modifies?39 Is a precise naming of these
processes enough to think these participatory fields?
I don’t really have an answer to all this. But I fear that we do have
to try to dig into the complexity of these participatory relations at the
intersection of a bodily assemblage and a larger field of production.
One possible pathway seems geared to thinking in Toscano’s terms of
individuation.40 But at the same time, individuation or differentiation

38 Compare Majid Rahnema’s critical insights into the economic instrumentalization

of participation as a “productive resource” for development, a manipulation which
narrows the issue of participation down to the size of an “economic participation”: “In
its present context, to borrow from Karl Polanyi’s description of the modern economy,
participation has come to be ‘disembedded’ from the socio-cultural roots which had
always kept it alive. It is now simply perceived as one of the many ‘resources’ needed
to keep the economy alive. To participate is thus reduced to the act of partaking in
the objectives of the economy, and the societal arrangements related to it. […] For
the modern construct of participation, a person should be part of a predefined project,
more specifically an economic project, in order to qualify as a participant.” See Rah-
nema, “Participation,” The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power,
ed. Wolfgang Sachs, (London & New York: Zed Books, 2010), p. 132.
39 Markus Miessen’s scepticism toward an all too well-intended, “enabling” notion
of participation (still referring to the deliberate decision of an active subject) shall be
emphasized at this point, first, in terms of criticizing this charity jargon and second,
in terms of rendering visible those lines of force that underpin the different processes
of participation. See Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation: Crossbench Praxis as a
Mode of Criticality (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), p. 54: “In this context, the question
seems to be: Why is participation mostly understood as a consensus-based, deliber-
ately positive, and politically correct means of innocently taking part in societal struc-
tures? It further raises the question of whether there’s a need for an alternative model
of conflicting participation that attempts to undo the romantic nostalgia of goodness,
and sheds light on the issue of critical intervention.”  [My emphasis]
40 I thank Stefan Hölscher for drawing my attention to this. See Alberto Toscano,
The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and
Deleuze (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Toscano’s thoughts concerning
individuation can be set into resonance with Deleuze and Guattari’s prominent
becomings, which appear as arepresentational individuation processes forming a
specific multiplicity-in-process composed of heterogeneous relations.


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can only be conceived from within the relations and non-relations they
I would like to conclude now  – embracing what André Lepecki
developed yesterday, when he spoke about the passing of a passivity
into an agency – by saying that every different distribution of the degree
of power within this larger field of participation is far more political
than every representation of it, since it implicates our agency, or better,
assembled agencies which necessarily pass through passion, passivity,
and potential toward their actualizations.42 Why then, amidst all the
participations and relational assemblages we live in, be concerned with
the participatory offer of singular performances, or more precisely, the
singular participatory relations to which they give rise? Because they
experiment precisely with that part of the affair, which is experimental
in theater, that is, in short, the sensible.
Thank you for your attention.
Proofreader: William Wheeler.

41 Such a concept of participation goes beyond the notion of “participatory art,”

whose major concerns from the 1960s onwards—activation, authorship, and com-
munity—were elaborated by Claire Bishop in her “Introduction: Viewers as Produc-
ers,” to the book Participation (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006), p. 12. Nonethe-
less, these three concerns still reverberate with the present concept of participation
when it unlocks authorship as an issue of agency, the idea of a closed whole as
collective parts, and when it decomposes the representation of an activity to the
capacity for acting otherwise.
42 Spinoza’s concept of the body as a relational one whose capacities can be deter-
mined adequately only in terms of differential degrees of the power to affect and
be affected is seminal for Deleuze’s thoughts about increasing activity: “Hence the
properly ethical question is linked to the methodological question of how we can
become active.” See Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin
Joughin, (New York: Zone Books, 1990), p. 221. In this context, passivity, the capac-
ity of feeling or suffering, relates as much to external forces as it relates to passion
and to potential actualizations. Viewing all the different agencies of a relational
assemblage, their multiplicity, one has to drop the static idea of simply opposed
states as well as the idea of a closed whole, which, once again, could neither explain
these states nor the way they transform into one another. As soon as one goes
beneath the representations of participation (i.e. beneath decision making, control-
ling, and deliberate subject-identity), the issue of participation is revealed as an issue
of parts, a negotiation of partially involved relations, or better, of plesiochronous
differences of involvement. For a conception of participation as synchronization of
parts, see Kai van Eikels, “What Parts of Us Can Do with Parts of Each Other (and
When): Some parts of this text,” Performance Research, 16:3 (September 2011) “On
Participation and Synchronization,” pp. 2–11. Unlike Eikels, who argues that due to
the indifference of aesthetic subjectivity there is, “strictly speaking, no participation
in the aesthetic event” (p. 6), the present text opts for thinking participation in view
of the perception and agencies of these parts.


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3. The Politics of Modernism

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Bojana Cvejić

On the Choreographic Production of Problems

Thanks to Nikolina Pristaš and Ten Days One Unity meeting

between BADco and 6M1L in Zagreb, October 2010)

I would like to begin with a preliminary remark that entangles two

notions I associate with the question of “dance doing politics”. In this
essay I will propose these notions sketchily at first and as a theo-
retical task to be elaborated later. My remark takes the position of an
undifferentiated “we” (first person plural), as if there was a “we” that
shared a common struggle. As soon as we – theorists, dramaturgs, cho-
reographers or performers – deem to engage with the question of the
“political” today –we face an aesthetic burden and political challenge.
We, in contemporary dance in Europe, ought to concede that we are
“politically challenged” in so far as we are “aesthetically burdened.”

Aesthetically burdened, politically challenged

The attribute “aesthetic” is reserved for a specific usage here: with “aes-
thetic burden” I refer to an inherent aestheticism dating from Western
modern dance as the persistence of the modernist quest of choreog-
raphy and dance to reassert its disciplinary specificity, exclusiveness
and autonomy in aesthetic categories. Aestheticism in Western theat-
rical dance is rooted in the oral and mimetic practice of transmission
of movement, the “show and copy” model that rests upon the image
and imaginability of movement. Regardless of the operation a work of
contemporary dance may entail, it is more often than not presented,
received, judged, historically recognized, referenced, or transmitted
in the image of the body and movement.1 While in dance it relies on
the oral mimetic logic of producing a self-identical aesthetic object by
reproduction, the predominance of the visual in framing the sensorial
of dance is not unique for dance, but a result of the condition of circu-
lating any work as a commodity. What is specific about the arrest of
a dance work in an image is its reductiveness in so far as the imaging

1 Projects of reconstruction and re-enactment of dance often suffer from the ­aesthetic
burden in the sense that the formal aspects of the choreography are foregrounded
in the presentation, while the historical and contextual aspects are ­insufficiently


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gives no access to other parameters that might be more crucial for the
work of dance than the description of the body or of the form of move-
ment by way of image. The inquiry into the operation of a choreogra-
phy – in less imageable matters of context, structure, problems, non-
present time – thus is often hampered by aestheticist demands, such as
to what kind of body or movement is produced. Works of dance that
are not communicable by way of body/movement images are deemed
difficult on the grounds that they are hard to see, or they yield nothing
recognizable or novel to perceive. They pose problems for reception,
and in doing so, shift attention away from the aesthetic object to a
problem, and a thought which arises from the difficulty in perceiving
or recognizing a moving body as the main focus of the work.
Earlier attempts to qualify the disregard for the centrality of the mov-
ing body as “conceptualist” seem equally reductive in the binary argu-
ment (concept vs. experience, cognitive vs. affective, etc.).2 I suggest
here to approach the dissolution of the body-movement image instead
as a way to disencumber the contemporary dance of aestheticism. The
articulation of “aesthetic burden” has a peculiar genealogy: it comes
from grappling with the failure of accounting for experimental art
practices in former Yugoslavia in the aesthetic categories of Western
modernity.3 These practices are de-linked from Western art traditions
in that they are aesthetically “unburdened”. They neglect formalist,
craft-oriented and aestheticizing aspects of a work in favor of context,
structure, minor stories, non-presence etc. Interpretation in aesthetic
terms misrecognizes them by dismissing them as eclectic, nonspecific,
nondescript or old-fashioned, for it doesn’t accept that the aesthetic
aspects are secondary, instrumental, not a matter of invention but of
use. For instance, the Croatian collective BADco is often interrogated on
the account of the kind of dance movement it produces. The comparison
of the dance in their performances with an existing style – as in the
often pronounced judgment “yes, but this is like Forsythe, and it’s not
a reference” – bars any insight into what and how the choreography
might operate. The limitation of the aesthetic burden could be consid-
ered as a political handicap which calls for various new prostheses,
all the discursive production which constitutes contemporary dance

2 Xavier Le Roy/Bojana Cvejic/Gerald Siegmund, “To end with judgment by way

of clarification,” in ed. Martina Hochmuth, Krassimira Kruschkova, Georg Schöll-
hammer, It takes place when it doesn’t: On dance and performance since 1999,
(Frankfurt: Revolver, 2006), pp. 49–56
3 Cf. the project of Irwin East Art Map and Marina Gržinic, “Mind the Gap! A Con-
ceptual and Political Map,” ed. M. Gržinic, G. Heeg and V. Darian, Mind the Map!
History is not Given (Frankfurt: Revolver, 2006), pp. 18–19.


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beyond the body-movement image. The prostheses are ontologically
constitutive for it is the choreographers themselves who invest work in
methodological concerns, obsession with procedures, poetic and post-
hoc dramaturgies, in a proliferation of books, films, conceptual and
technological tools that sometimes even substitute for the performance
event. Being “politically challenged” hereby means accepting the handi-
cap of aesthetic burden, the historical hegemonic arrest of dance in an
aestheticizing image, which demands discursive efforts to disencumber
itself. 4 Questions like “why do you dance?” and “why do you dance
this” or “like this” often addressed to BADco. imply that “this” be read
as a style, authorial signature, movement idiom on which to hook a
meaning or conceptual determination of any kind. I paraphrase Niko-
lina Pristaš, dancer and choreographer from BADco, who says that her
movement adequates an idea. Adequation for her isn’t the same as
translate or exemplify: instead, it poses a problem. Such an approach
to choreography and dance is instrumental, because it bypasses the
self-reflection of the dance medium to use dance on a par with other
expressions – text, architecture, or computer software, for instance – in
order to pose a problem that wouldn’t be specific to dance, but would
implicate dance differently from text, architecture, software etc.
Instrumentalization here presupposes that choreography be disso-
ciated from a certain modernist notion of Western theatrical dance.
This dissociation I have argued elsewhere as a disjunction between the
body and movement.5 In short, I here mean a rupture with two ideo-
logical operations in the Western legacy by which movement has been
bound up with the body: self-expression which ontologizes movement
with a natural urge to move and the body as a minimal resting place of
noncompromisable subjectivity, and objectivation that reduces move-
ment to a physical articulation, or the object of dance whose meaning
lies tautologically in itself. Contemporary dance is still often stitched
between these two ideological seams: it either persuades by perform-
ing the necessity of self-expression or it displays the indifference and
self-containment of an object; in deliberately rough schematic terms, it
says: “believe in the truth of my body that doesn’t lie” or “observe the

4 This rhetoric owes some inspiration to Bruno Latour’s take on the crisis of politi-
cal representation in democracy. Bruno Latour. “From Realpolitic to Dingpolitik or
How to Make Things Public,” ed. B. Latour and P. Weibel, Making Things Public:
Atmospheres of Democracy (Karlsruhe/Cambridge MA/London: ZKM & The MIT
Press, 2005), pp. 14–41.
5 The thesis comes from my doctoral dissertation, “Choreography after Deleuze:
Performative as Expressive Concepts in Contemporary Dance,” at Centre for
Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University.


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task.” Nikolina Pristaš would say it more congenially: why is it that we
always see movement falling between gesture and noise?6
In order to instrumentalize choreography beyond dance, should then
the self-identity of movement pursued either in self-expression or self-
referentiality be undermined? And how will that disturb the harmony
of faculties by which a performance should bring spectators together
in sensus communis, namely, in recognition and self-actualization? I
will observe three choreographies that have earned the reputation of
being difficult exactly for posing these problems. Difficulty, as a non-
category, similar to barred or unclassified, here implies not only a
deficit of public in order for these performances to be shown and seen,
but also that they are barely visible, and therefore, aesthetically chal-
lenging in a literal sense, hard to watch.

Invisible, indiscernable or opaque

How to construct movement that can be sensed and experienced with-

out seeing how it is being done? The departure of Nvsbl, a choreogra-
phy by Eszter Salamon made in 2006, is the false dilemma between
belief in what is seen and tautological vision, or what I see is what I
see. The problem the choreographer poses here is how to disrupt the
hierarchical regime of senses in movement’s perception, and shift its
perceptibility from vision to kinesthetic and proprioceptive sensibility.
The solution was to obscure movement’s visibility by making it exces-
sively slow – an eighty-minute long journey of five and a half meters
from periphery to the center stage, where the departure and the end
point are just instants like great many other instants between these
ends, different and not identical to each other. This wish could have
been addressed as a negative, “fascistic” task of eliminating space,
form and size of movement, fundamental parameters that measure
movement’s fluency as corporal freedom. Instead, the choreographer
sought to affirm slowness in a range of qualities, or  – in her own
words – how to dee-jay the thousand movements and rhythms in the
body. To do that, she had to create a “positive project” for the per-
formers and resource a body system that would reorient them towards
their own body. The choice of Body-Mind Centering was less new-age
than pragmatic. To invoke a sensation from which to initiate a move-
ment in those places in the body the awareness of which we don’t
have requires a lengthy labour of imagination. Sensation is thus the

6 From a conversation with Nikolina Pristaš held during TenDaysOneUnity in

Zagreb, October 2010.


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product of a will to imagine, engage metaphors in order to construct a
relation with the imaginary place in the body. One could say that the
dancers are fumbling in the dark, in a form of inadequate knowledge,
feigning sensations for voluntary action. They produce an attachment
of thought to movement which is scientifically dubious, irrational but
empowering, as it helps them to develop a relentless division and par­
titioning of the body for an ever more precise and specific quality.
This technique breaks the mimetic regime for it shifts focus from the
image of the movement-effect to the imaginary cause of it. This striving
is what takes time and heterogenizes the duration so as to hinder the
image of movement, or everything from being given all at once. The
motion expresses itself as a tendency, before being the effect of a cause,
and the cause being the process of invoking sensation remains inacces-
sible for the spectator. Indeed, what happens to the spectator, when
her gaze is deprived of the control of the body’s source of movement?
Disbelief might have led one to a test of looking away and looking back
to verify change. At first, the movement can’t be seen in the course of
its production, but can be registered as a change once it has occurred,
in retrospect. To attend duration can only be an event of attunement, of
making one’s glance co-extensive with the time-image of the duration-
bodies, of absorption in the slow perception of change.
The reason why I am dwelling on the process the performers engage-
ment here is because of its inaccessibility. Inaccessibility brings into
question the sense of community and communication in gathering.
The choreography that gathers bodies here necessarily divides them,
not only between the two facing sides of performing and attending, but
along a multiplicity of different attachments spectators and perform-
ers make amongst each other. Nvsbl might be just an extreme case
of differentiating the ideas and temporalities between performing and
attending. It strives beyond the subtraction inherent in habitual per-
ception by yielding movement registered as if with a nonhuman eye –
at the limit of sensibility. Partitioning sensations in the internal space
of the performer’s body adequates the focalization of the spectator’s
gaze as a close-up. In both processes nothing is being communicated;
the performers and spectators are alone, disentangled and separated
from each other; each attunes her own perception apparatus and thus
perceives a micromovement by extending it.
If the choreography of Nvsbl partitions sensations, movements and
bodies in noncommunication, my next example is about a choreog-
raphy that gives rise to a community that will override itself. The
­performance is called Untitled and dates from 2005. At the time, the
author deliberately remained anonymous. The decision to not-sign and
not-title the piece was an unprecedented intervention into the repre-


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sentational logic of performance. It was meant to disable its major
register, that is, judgment in the nominal framework that allows audi-
ences to attribute their reception to an author. Now they were con-
fronted with a void, both a symbolical and a literal one. Although
this act of resistance might resemble yet another form of institutional
critique, Xavier Le Roy’s refusal to ‘sign’ and title the piece was meant
to reinforce the work’s facticity: performance being all there is. A short
description will clarify why.
As the spectators entered the auditorium, they were given small bat-
tery-powered lamps to find their seats, just as latecomers ushered into a
performance or a film that had already begun. However, it soon became
clear that the stage itself would remain dark. From their seats, spectators
began to inspect the stage, searching for the action. As they adjusted their
vision to diminished visibility, they began to see indiscernible objects
emerging from obscurity, but they could barely determine whether these
shapes were puppets or live (human) bodies disguised as puppets. While
the spectators shone their lights onto the void of the stage, a white fog
slowly covered the space, reflecting the light rays of the torches. There
was little to observe unless the spectator was prepared to search for it,
and to try and discern movement from stillness and figures from the
background. The act of not-seeing was just as significant as the action
that was occurring on stage. The performance dismantled its object into
a situation with changing stakes. It was easier for the spectators to see
each other than to watch the performers. As a consequence, the power
was redirected from the stage to the audience.
All the while, the dancers, disguised in and enmeshed with puppets
were busy manipulating puppets by direct contact with their hands,
by intermediate contact using the strings of the puppet, and by body-
to-puppet contact where the mass of one’s movement would make
the other move; or their presence was simply suspected fumbling in
the dark. As Le Roy explained to me, his interest was in exploring
the prosthetic relationship of the body with an inanimate human-like
object, an adjunct that would give the body a different weight, elastic-
ity, and fluency. In terms of a dance experiment, Le Roy observed the
interdependency of the environment and the body, whereby the body
is regarded as an extension of the environment, or how a body in con-
tact with an object makes another entity with specific ways of moving
and being. He worked with eyes closed so that their actions would
be done in the dark. What the spectators could see wouldn’t be what
the stage illuminated but what the audience themselves illuminated.
Hence, the problem of dispensing with the form of movement, which,
no matter how unfixed, transformative and evanescent, still enables
us to recognize a subject or object, was solved by indiscernibility.


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Choreography was an instrument for disorientating the sensorium of
the event, in which the indiscernibility of bodies, objects and move-
ments interfered with the capacity to feel, understand and judge. In the
course of the evening, the behavior of the audience, now louder and
more visible than the on-stage action, hijacked the event and became
the focus of the spectacle. In the ending part, staged as the talk after
the performance in which one of the performers stepped out of his pup-
pet costume, and took on the role of spokesperson talking to the audi-
ence, the audience repeatedly protested as if they had been hoaxed.
Their outrage about the anonymity and lack of title prevented them to
engage with the situation. They refused to attend it.
Comparable to Nvsbl, Untitled makes the performance seem inde-
pendent of the spectators, not by the as-if clause of the illusionist
representation with the fourth wall, but by being inaccessible to the
audience, hardly perceivable (Untitled). However, it doesn’t reject the
presence of the audience. Instead, it demonstrates that the spectators
can’t remain in their role without constructing a conjunction. This
entails an activity that I call “wiring”, which means to establish a con-
nection that makes the body or the action of the spectator coterminus
with the action of performing. A wired attender doesn’t take over the
role of the performer – she doesn’t become an actor in lieu of a missing
one. The attender actively assembles herself with the other heteroge-
neous parts of the assembling – objects, live or phantom bodies, lights
and sounds in this case. As if she connects to an electrical circuit that
epitomizes the event, her “wiring” is plugging vision and voice into the
performance which sensorially shapes the event. This activity is a mat-
ter of constructing an encounter that captures heterogeneous forces of
expression of this assembling.
My third and last case continues somewhere in between the closure
of the visible and the exposure of the invisible. The choreography is
called Changes (2006) by Nikolina Pristaš and BADco., and entails a
transformation of environments of limited visibility that the audience
is part of. Being physically part of the performance environment – like
in the homogeneous purple light block, which recalls the UV protec-
tive hospital environments – means being physically implicated in the
problem that this performance poses: entering a relationship between
parasites and environment. According to Michel Serres, for a parasite
to seize control, it has to clear the space from other parasites; it needs
to eradicate noise for the message to pass through silence. Serres’s
“parasite” is a trope for Pristas to pose what looks like a specifically
choreographic problem at first, only to transmute it immediately into
a political concern. The problem addresses the double articulation of
noise and message, or more specifically, to dance, noise and gesture


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in movement. Dancing in this choreography develops in constant fluc-
tuation between gestures and noise, or those other movements that
tend to obscure the channel of communication. As Pristas describes,
at one point dance is just humming in the space (the word “noise” in
Serbo-Croatian isn’t just the antonym of “sound”, the way Cage puts it,
but it also means “humming”). Figures merge with the environment,
constituting a shimmering background in magenta light. Dancers spin
in pirouettes for 4 minutes, 33 seconds. Movements as noise don’t pro-
duce cognitive meaning, but maintain an intensity. They don’t com-
municate anything but are neither superfluosly decorative. Instead
they expire in time, in a kind of work without any purpose.
Parallel to dancing, a voice-over delivers a stream of text, a ver-
bal channel through which various anecdotes and observations spin
around the fable about the ant and the grasshopper, labor and lei-
sure, work and laziness. These stories diagrammatically expand as the
fable-parasite devours them, one of which is the anti-May 1968 speech
by the leader of the French ants (clearly, an allusion to the French
president, Nicolas Sarkozy). While the voice-over runs as a smooth
message, dance physically labors in the space. At a certain moment, a
dancer speaks out the following text:

I am not a charismatic person. I am a hard worker, a pragmatic and a good ant. I

beat all my competitors with work, love and kindness. My message to my rivals
is that they can fight against me only with more work, love and kindness. All
those poor fellows cannot knock down what I can build. The ant tried to per-
suade the cricket: I am the humblest ant in the world. There are not many like
that. You show me another one in the ant hill who works as much as I do and
who is willing to sacrifice 16 hours a day and 363 days a year like me. I don’t
think there are many like that. You tell me if you know one if you are claim-
ing that there is such an ant. Inside me emotions are not dead, I am not crude,
pragmatic and a politician, sterile and castrated. I am still an ant.7

Beyond the image of thought

This touching portrait of the dancer as a hardworking ant echoes what

Andrew Hewitt warned about in his theory of “social choreography” –
the dark side of the ideology of freedom in early modern dance, or how
the modern dance subject who experiences her truth in her own body

7 Quoted from Changes by BADco. demo recording from the performance at Tanz
im August, Berlin, 2007.


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becomes the best workforce always ready for exploitation under the
banner of experience.8 But something else, more specific to the conun-
drum of political handicap and aesthetic labor in contemporary dance,
is striking here. What was referred to as “conceptual dance”, accused
of being “non-dance” a decade ago, in fact should better be explained
by a technical redistribution of labor: a wish to minimize dancing as
physical in favor of mental labor, or thought.9 However, in the substitu-
tion of the corporal and affective by the intellectual labor, an aesthetic
ideal of dance may still subsist  – lightness as effortlessness  – now
transferred from the body to thought. Effortlessness in thought here
means the efficiency of conceptual operation, of a message cleared from
noise. In a list of misnomers for conceptualizing tendencies in dance
in the end of the 1990s was “think-performance” or “think-dance”,
which became synonymous with “smart” and eloquent performances
delegate themselves to think for the spectators, reducing spectators’
thought to a confirmation of understanding and opinion. This clarifies
the difficulty of choreographies such as Nvsbl, Untitled and Changes,
which aren’t conceptualist think-performances thinking the thought
of the spectator away, but are difficult to perceive and understand,
because their movement doesn’t explain anything nor does it express
anyone. The strategies of invisibility, indiscernability and opacity in
Nvsbl, Untitled and Changes are directed against the aesthetic mimetic
logic, and through reaching the limit of sensibility they force thought
from its impossibility, or from non-understanding. The disturbance of
viewing on the basic level compels the spectators to construct a posi-
tion in the situation of the performance. Yet these works aren’t based
on the withdrawal of the perceptual in favor of a cerebral frame of
reception: they begin by problematizing the very perception of move-
ment and change, the agency of movement, the figure and its presence,
relationship between the figure and the environment, the meaning and
movement. This involves dismantling the aestheticist concerns which
envelope form, gesture and expression of the self. By aestheticist I
specifically mean a legitimized mimetic repertoire of registers, from the
form, style, representational meaning to signature. This implies that the
function of choreography shifts from producing an aesthetic object to a
problem. The production of a problem doesn’t begin with possibilities –
they are a matter of knowledge that we account for as the limits to be
pushed. Stating a problem isn’t about uncovering an already existing

8 Andrew Hewitt, Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Everyday

Movement and Dance. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).
9 Cf. Bojana Cvejic and Ana Vujanovic, “Introduction: Exhausting Immaterial Labor
in Performance,” TkH – Journal d’Aubervilliers, 2010: p. 4–5.


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question or concern, something that was certain to emerge sooner or
later. Nor is a problem a rhetorical question that can’t be answered. On
the contrary, to raise a problem implies constructing terms in which it
will be stated, and conditions it will be solved in. Unburdening from
aestheticism in Western dance demands the right of dance to denatural-
ize. This calls for many points of resistance, resistance to the natural,
to the free and creative, to fluency and effortlessness, to entertaining a
necessary relation to form, to the self-actualization of the dancer, but
also the self-actualization of her community of spectators. All these
could perhaps be subsumed under the mimetic logic of image, vision
and visibility, as well as clarity, understanding, and judgment. There
are many ways of gathering, and choreography can explore conditions
for spectators to construct their positions and perspectives in the situa-
tion. As little or as much as it may seem, this begins with the conditions
of viewing that the three choreographies attempt to produce.
Lastly, choreography could risk the aesthetic autonomy of dance, and
admit that the approaches to choreography dissociated from the art of
dance, such as the mentioned social choreography – an interpretative
model as well as a medium for instilling and rehearsing the social as an
aesthetic order – make the politicity of choreographic workings outside
the hermetic self-reflexive preoccupations of dance more graspable and
powerful. The widespread usage of choreography as a technical term
outside the art of dance – in diplomacy and the “art of leadership,”
or in the analysis of the movements of molecules and cell processes,
or in information technology – designates a complicated but seamless
organization of many heterogeneous elements in motion.10 It’s time to
test whether choreography can be an instrument for thinking, rather
than showing and reflecting thought. This requires that movement be
granted a double articulation, as gesture and noise at the same time, as
being issued by the body and not necessarily belonging to it. In theater,
it involves creating situations in which the hindrance of recognition and
understanding of movement would be taken as a productive ­problem, a
positive constraint and difficulty for the spectator from which thought

10 Cf. the recorded mentions of choreography such as The Art of leadership: a

choreography of human understanding (by Zach Kelehear, publication from 2006),
or “Quantum choreography: making molecules dance to technology’s tune?” (by
S. G. Shirmer in Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical and
Engineering Sicences, vol. 364, 2006) or “Patterns: serial and parallel processes for
process choreography and workflow” (by IBM International Technical Support Orga-
nization, 2004) in Philip M. Parker, ed., Choreography: Webster’s Timeline ­History
1710–2007 (San Diego Ca.: ICON, 2009).


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Gabriele Brandstetter

Heteropolitics of Contemporary Dance

Xavier Le Roy’s Le Sacre du printemps

Kunstwerke jedoch haben ihre Größe einzig darin,

dass sie sprechen lassen, was die Ideologie verbirgt.1
Theodor W. Adorno

How are we to think about the relationship between dance and poli-
tics? Might it mean not only understanding dance politically, but also
considering the politics of dance? The history and the discourse of
dance is a history of the intricate negotiations between body, move-
ment and politics: what André Lepecki calls the “choreo-political.”2
And the discourses and interpretations of Dance Studies reflect and
address these questions with shifting degrees of emphasis. Yes, the
political has for some time now been a search formula for an under-
standing of dance, and one that has managed to direct public attention
to many of its different forms.
What can be said to be political is the relationship between aesthetics
and power, the coincidence of political and aesthetic representation,
for example in the dances at the court of Louis XIV – as Mark Franko’s
reading of The King’s Two Bodies referring to Kantorowicz, has
Also political are the dances and movements portrayed by those
choreographers whose pieces deal with questions of power, hierar-
chies, law and justice, inclusions and exclusions. A random sampling
might include: Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table, Jean Weidt’s work-
ers’ choirs, Valeska Gert’s socially critical dance sketches, Martha

1 Theodor W. Adorno, “Rede über Lyrik und Gesellschaft”, Noten zur Literatur,
Gesammelte Schriften Vol. 11 (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1974), pp. 49–68, here:
p. 51. (“The greatness of works of art, however, consists soley in he fact that they
give voice to what ideology hides.” – T.W. Adorno, “On Lyric Poetry and Society”,
Notes to Literature I, Vol. 1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, transl. by Shierry Weber Nicholsen
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 37–54, here: p. 39) – Translation
of this article from the German by Iain W.M. Taylor.
2 See also André Lepecki, “Five thoughts on the Choreo-Political Neocolonial”, The
Third Body (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2004), pp. 143–147.
3 See also Mark Franko, “Double Bodies: Androgyny and Power in the Performances
of Louis XIV”, TDR, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Winter 1994): pp. 71–82, here: p. 74.


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Graham’s American pieces,4 or the (early) Pina Bausch’s choreogra-
phies with their unsparing critical view of the social conventions and
social roles of post-war Germany.
Finally the word political applies – quite openly and evidently – to
those productions of a politically committed dance and performance
scene, close to the Agitprop theatre, that uses movement choreo-polit-
ically in the sense of an emancipatory act – whether in the Europe of
the 1968 student revolts;5 or – in another guise – in the context of the
revolutionary new concepts of everyday body, everyday movement
and everyday space as publicly performed by the members of the Jud-
son Dance Theater: Democracy’s body6, as Sally Banes puts it.
Another  – and terrible  – chapter of the political is the history of
all those dancers and choreographers who were persecuted, forced
into internal emigration or driven into exile  – the list is shockingly
long. A historical investigation of the dancers persecuted and forced
to emigrate in the Nazi period,7 or of the history of violence, censor-
ship, oppression and secret surveillance, as in the case of the dancer
Oda Schottmüller in the former East Germany, will help clarify the
history of political consciousness. Examples of studies that take on
this task are the ones that expose the instrumentalization of dance –
whether folk dancing (as in the Nazi period)8 or stage performances
subjected to a political concept (e.g. Social Realism) or serving propa-
ganda purposes, or stigmatised by in- and exclusions of racism.9 The

4 See also Mark Franko, Dancing Modernism/ Performing Politics (Bloomington:

Indiana University Press, 1995).
5 See also Eugenia Casini-Ropa, La danza e l’agitprop. I teatri-non-teatrali nella
cultura tedesca del primo Novecento (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1988).
6 See also Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body; for a wide-ranging interpretation com-
pare Ramsay Burt, Judson Dance Theater: Performative traces (London: Routledge,
2006) and Mark Franko, The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the
1930s (Middelton: Wesleyan University Press, 2002) as well as Susan Foster, Cho­
reographing History – Unnatural Acts: Theorizing the Performative (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1995).
7 See e.g. the studies/exhibitions of Andrea Amort, as presented in Vienna in
2000: Tanz im Exil, Exhibition at the Österreichische Theatermuseum, lecture and
performance program in cooperation with & ImPulsTanz at the Wiener
Akademietheater with works by Hanna Berger, Gertrud Bodenwieser, Andrei
Jerschik and Pola Nirenska. As well in 2008: Berührungen. Tanz vor 1938 – Tanz
von heute, festival with 33 events at the Theater Odeon et. al. places in Vienna.
8 See e.g. Hanna Walsdorf, Bewegte Propaganda. Politische Instrumentalisierung
von Volkstanz in den deutsche Diktaturen (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann,
9 See also Susan Manning, Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion (Minne-
apolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004) as well as Ramsay Burt, Alien Bodies:


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fundamental question of the political as it has cropped up in dance
and performance theory since the 1980s is perhaps best expressed in
the words of Rustom Bharucha: “How does one begin to respect – and
not just tolerate – cultural differences?”10 The constructions and power
constellations of race, class, gender and intercultural relations have
been examined in recent years with regard to dance, choreography
and identity politics. At the same time the consequences of globaliza-
tion and migration movements have also been treated, both in pointed
performances by such performers as Walid Raad, Rabih Mroué (Who
is Afraid of Representation), Ong Keng Sen and Bruno Beltrão, as well
as in (equally pointed) scholary research projects.11
In addition to those studies that concern questions of identity poli-
tics in the context of globalization and migration and hence look at
the projects of performers that deal with the contradictions of these
discourses and transference processes (such as Guillermo Gomez-Peña
or Nurkan Erpulat/Tuncay Kulao�lu, whose musical-like spectacles
examine questions of immigration and anti-Islamic clichés)12 – works
of dance and performance theory are increasingly focusing on politi-
cal questions of community. The renaissance of the idea of the com­
munity in theoretical discourse since the 1990s is a reaction to the
social changes in the era of neo-liberalism. Political philosophers such
as Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy13 and Paolo Virno14 (following
Hannah Arendt) are seeking to detach the thinking on polis and com­
munitas from the traditional topoi of political theory, such as state and
individual, nation and constitution. As well a rethinking of concepts of

Representations of Modernity, ‘Race’ and Nation in Early Modern Dance (London:

Routledge, 1998).
10 Rustom Bharucha, The Politics of Cultural Practice. Thinking through theatre
in an age of globalization (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001); see also
Johannes Odenthal: “The Body is a Library. Conversation with Koffi Kôkô”, The
Third Body, pp. 49–52.
11 See e.g. Ruston Bharucha, Politics of Cultural Practise; Marta Savigliano, Tango
And The Political Economy Of Passion (New York: Westview Press, 1995); Sabine
Sörgel, Dancing Postcolonialism: The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica
(Bielefeld: Transcript, 2007) or festivals as the performing arts festival In Transit or
the Festival for Brazilian Contemporary Dance. Move Berlin, both held in Berlin.
12 See e.g. Lö Bal Almanya. A Musical Play by Nurkan Erpulat and Tunçay Kulao�lu,
premiered at “Ballhaus Naunynstr”, May 11th 2010 in Berlin.
13 Jean-Luc Nancy, Die undarstellbare Gemeinschaft (Stuttgart: Edition Patricia
Schwarz, 1988); see as well J.-L. Nancy, Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Galilée, 1996),
translated as Being Singular Plural (California: Stanford University Press, 2000).
14 See also Paolo Virno, “Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of
Exodus”, ed. Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential
Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 13–37.


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the public spaces and the political theory of Jürgen Habermas15 is part
of the contemporary discourse.16 The opposition of community and
society, which Ferdinand Tönnies17 brought into the discourse on a
political theory of the modern age, is based on the model of the Social
Contract. For Tönnies the (pre-modern) social model of “community”
constitutes a reduction of the complexity of modern social conditions.
As Joseph Vogl has pointed out, thinking in terms of contractual the-
ory18 reveals in the dichotomies between holism and atomism a “con-
tinuing Rousseauism” in modern politics. By contrast, today’s political
philosophers think of “community” in a deconstructive context: They
refer to community in the plural (communities and not in an opposi-
tion between individual and communitas), such as Jean-Luc Nancy
with his thesis of being singular plural19 or the paradox of a community
of equals which Jacques Rancière shows in his rethinking of the politi-
cal topoi of the sensus communis and the concept of égalité.20 Then
there is the revision of basic categories of political thinking in neo-
communitarianism, as is demonstrated by Roberto Esposito21 with his
attempt to discern in communitas a counter-concept to “community”
in the sense of allegiance or property (proprium). The meaning of the
word “munus” as contained in communitas/communis as an obliga-
tion – i.e. something that one has got to give – indicates that “com-
munity is defined not by ‘having’ a property, but by a debt, a pledge,
a gift to be given”.22

15 See also Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen

zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1990),
translated as The structural transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into
a category of bourgeois society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991). See also Jürgen
Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp,
1981), translated as The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1, transl. by Thomas
McCarthy (Mansfield: Beacon Press, 1985).
16 See also Gerald Raunig, ed., Bildräume und Raumbilder. Repräsentationskritik
in Film und Aktivismus (Wien: turia + kant, 2004).
17 See also Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegriffe der
reinen Soziologie [1887] (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969).
18 Joseph Vogl, ed., Gemeinschaften. Positionen zu einer Philosophie des Politischen
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1994), pp. 7–31, here: p. 8.
19 See also Nancy, Being Singular Plural, 2000; compare as well Nancy, “Das
gemeinsame Erscheinen  – Von der Existenz des ‘Kommunismus’ zur Gemein-
schaftlichkeit der ‘Existenz””, ed. Joseph Vogl, Gemeinschaften, pp. 167–205.
20 See also Jacques Rancière, “Die Gemeinschaft der Gleichen”, ed. Joseph Vogl,
ibid., pp. 101–132.
21 See also Roberto Esposito, Communitas. Ursprung und Wege der Gemeinschaft
(Berlin, Zürich: Diaphanes, 2004).
22 Ibid., p. 16.


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For questions of theatre and performance theory it is precisely these
approaches that afford new insights into representation and spectacle,
the relationship between performer and audience. And it is no coin-
cidence that the above-mentioned philosophers  – Rancière, Nancy,
Virno – have for their part dealt with questions of the theatre, dance,
choreography, and body.23 It is above all questions of participation
that have proved relevant with regard to the political element in dance
and performance. What organizational forms of collective action are
opened up by participatory practices, what dynamics of movement and
synchronization of (participating) individuals do they produce?24
In the centre of this turn to the theme of community and collectivity
stands “the audience” – significantly still in the singular or as plurale
tantum (of which more later). Contemporary performance groups or
“collectives”  – such as She She Pop, LIGNA/ Radioballet, “Geheim­
agentur” or “danse praticable” 25  – arrange their performances in
such a way as to undermine or suspend the division into performers
and audience.26 A similar mode of operation, only politically more
far-reaching, is employed by a group called NSK (New Slovene Art),
founded in 1992 in the wake of Slovene independence. It founded
the NSK State in Time, a fictitious collective formation without ter-
ritorial claims, which identifies with no really existing state or politi-
cal organization and has now grown to be a collective (art)work – a
“social sculpture” – with about ten thousand members.27 With their

23 See e.g. Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator / Ein Vortrag Zur
Zuschauerperspektive”, Texte zur Kunst, Nr. 58: “Betrachter” (2005): pp. 35–51; or
Jean-Luc Nancy, “Theater als Ort des Anderen. A conversation with Gesa Ziemer”,
Theater der Zeit (Dec. 2004): pp. 26–28; and Jean-Luc Nancy, Die Ausdehnung der
Seele. Texte zu Körper, Kunst und Tanz, ed. and transl. Miriam Fischer (Berlin,
Zürich: Diaphanes, 2010); see as well Paolo Virno, “Virtuosity and Revolution”, A
Potential Politics.
24 See the publication of Sfb 447 (Special Research Area) in: Performance Research
Journal, issue on “Participation and Synchronization”, ed. Kai van Eikels, Bettina
Brandl-Risi, “What Parts Of Us Can Do With Parts Of Each Other  – And When”
(London: Routledge, 2011).
25 See also Gabriele Brandstetter on Frédéric Gies and other members of performance
collectives as danse praticable: “Choreographies of the Curatorial”, ed. Beatrice
von Bismarck, Cultures of the Curatorial (conference proceedings, expected to be
published in 2012).
26 For an extensive treatment of these artists’ collectives and the question of an art
of the collective see Kai van Eikels, Die Kunst des Kollektiven. Performance zwischen
Theater, Politik und Sozio-Ökonomie (Berlin, 2011, in print).
27 From 21rd to 23rd of October the NSK held a First NSK CITIZENS’ CONGRESS at
the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, which the virtual art project, the social


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conceptual approach – the structures of their framing28 and curating –
the performance groups mentioned here by way of example, like the
theatre and dance studies referring to their productions, are entering
the realm of the political per definitionem: with the questioning of
community, the public, decision-making and action – these are praxes
of the “choreo-political” (A. Lepecki).29

Heteropolitics and the space of anatomy

Now, however, I would like to approach the question of the political

element in dance from a different angle and give it a different weight.
I would like to invert the perspectives. Instead of proceeding from the
works of performance collectives which seek to abolish the distinction
between art and performance on the one hand and politics on the other
(as in the above examples), I want to look at a dance performance
which  – apparently  – remains entirely and emphatically in the aes-
thetic fields of theatre art, choreography and music and works within
this representational frame. I then mean to step to one side and ask to
what extent the aesthetic can be considered to be political: how dance
performance may be seen as the place of the Other, as a “space” in
which “something happens.”30 In referring to Theodor W. Adorno’s
Aesthetic I would like to view these considerations in a perspective
that draws on a different understanding of the political: the heteropoli­
tics of dance. Of course, there can be no question of simply applying
Adorno’s theory here, nor of generalizing from the historical context
of his concept of art, which mainly relates to the literature and music
of the 19th century and to 20th century Modernism. His thesis that the
aesthetic as the political element of a work of art is determined pre-
cisely by its negativity, by the fact that it – the work of art – “keinem
Heteronomen sich beugt und sich gänzlich nach dem je eigenen Gesetz

sculpture NSK State in Time was temporarily “materialized”. See http://congress., last access on July 24th 2011.
28 There are many forms in which these art collectives work, such as curating;
see Gesa Ziemer, Komplizenschaft. Eine kollektive Aktionsform: Alltag, Arbeit,
Autorschaft (Berlin, Zürich: Diaphanes, 2012); Beatrice von Bismarck, ed., Cultures
of the Curatorial; see as well “This curator-producer-dramaturge-whatever figure.
A conversation with Gabriele Brandstetter, Hannah Hurtzig, Virve Sutinen & Hilde
Teuchies”, Frakcija Performing Arts Journal, ed. Florian Malzacher (Zagreb: Centre
for Drama Art, 2010), pp. 22–27.
29 See André Lepecki, “Five Thoughts on the Choreo-Political”, 2004.
30 See also Jean-Luc Nancy, “Theater als Ort des Anderen”, p. 27.


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konstituiert”31 could be a basic concept of rethinking the political in
dance (as in art). For Adorno it is not the interests or “intentions” of
the author or the work that is decisive; and by the same token – as
Adorno said in his Rede über Lyrik und Gesellschaft – it cannot be a
matter of using works of art as “Demonstrationsobjekte soziologischer
Theorien.”32 Art, as understood by Adorno, can only be critical – and
hence also political – if it is not committed.33 The direct commitment
of art would be a “erpresste” – and therefore futile – “Versöhnung”34,
risking “eines Rückfalls in bloße Ideologie”.35 A work of art can only
be critical if it remains autonomous and maintains its aesthetic dis-
tance from society: “Nur vermöge dieser Differenz, nicht durch deren
Verleugnung, wird das Kunstwerk beides, Kunstwerk und richtiges
Bewußtsein.”36 The idea of “proper consciousness” seems hardly
transferable to current socio-political and aesthetic conditions. But the
concept of “autonomy” is a different story – if one regards it not just
from the perspective of an autonomous aesthetic of the bourgeois and
modern art periods (i.e. historically), but in light of Adorno’s theory
of aesthetic negativity. In his study on Adorno, Christoph Menke
pointed out the dual character of art: “fait social and autonomy”37. It
is in the autonomy, the alterity of art, that we see the political in the
sense of difference. This “otherness” of art contains and preserves the

31 T.W. Adorno, “Rede über Lyrik und Gesellschaft”, p. 52. (“by refusing to submit
to anything heteronomous and constituting itself solely in accordance with its own
laws”, T.W. Adorno, “On Lyric Poetry and Society”, p. 40).
32 T.W. Adorno, ibid., p.  49. (“objects with which to demonstrate sociological
theses”, T.W. Adorno, “On Lyric Poetry and Society”, p. 37f).
33 The question of engagement and disengagement is raised in the contemporary
discourse on dance – hence not referring to Adorno and the Critical Theory but to
Gilles Deleuze compare André Lepecki, Exhausting Dance: Performance and the
Politics of Movement (London: Routledge, 2005).
34 T.W. Adorno: “Erpreßte Versöhnung”, p. 270. (“Extorted Reconciliation”, p. 225).
35 Ibid.
36 T.W. Adorno: “Erpreßte Versöhnung”, p. 261. (“Only by virtue of this difference,
and not by denying it, does the work of art become both work of art and correct
consciousness”, T.W. Adorno, ibid.).
37 See also Christoph Menke, Die Souveränität der Kunst: Ästhetische Erfahrung
nach Adorno und Derrida (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1991), p. 9. (See also: The
Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida, translated by Neil
Solomon, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.). Menke stresses that the term “auton-
omy” in Adorno implies that it “occupies its own place alongside these discourses
within the pluralistic structure of modern reason”, see Menke, The Sovereignty of
Art, p. vii. (or: Menke, Die Souveränität der Kunst, p. 9.).


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“­ widerspruchsvollen Grundverhältnisse der Gesellschaft”38, since art
in its aesthetic negativity eludes the identifying concept as an instru-
ment of rationality.39 Thus if we want to understand the aesthetic in
its alterity, one could bring Adorno and Nancy into conversation with
each other and see dance as the place of the Other; its difference – its
heteropolitics – shows itself (in Nancy’s case) in the fact that in terms
of an economy of productivity “something completely useless is pro-
duced” – a “zero benefit” (usefulness) or an “extra benefit” (a gift), to
use Nancy’s term.40

Xavier Le Roy’s re-vision of Le Sacre du Printemps

The dance performance that I would like to consider from this point
of view (of autonomy and alterity, with Adorno and Nancy), is Xavier
Le Roy’s Le Sacre du printemps, a piece that is played in the artificial
space of the theatre and that composes its material in references to the
arts of dance, music, and video/film. In what way would the aesthetics
of this performance  – in so far as it opens a place of the Other, of
difference, in the apparently autonomous aesthetic reflexivity of a
dance piece over and above the reception of a dance piece (namely
Stravinsky’s/Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, 1913)  – have to be
seen as political? In the press reception of Xavier Le Roy’s Le Sacre
du printemps41 there is a clear emphasis on the manner of producing
the performance and its contextualization, such as its relationship with
Le Roy’s Mouvements for Lachenmann (2005).42 The narrative estab-

38 See also T.W. Adorno, “Rede über Lyrik und Gesellschaft”, p. 60. (“contradictory
fundamental condition of society”, T.W. Adorno, “On Lyric Poetry and Society”,
p. 46).
39 See also Juliane Rebentisch, who refers in a similar argument to Adorno’s “Aes-
thetic” in her Essay on the Installation by Mathias Poledna: “Deconfigurations of
Community. Mathias Poledna’s Version”, printend in Mathias Poledna’s Version,
16mm black and white film, no sound, 10:10 min, ed. Galerie Daniel Buchholz,
Cologne, Berlin 2004, no page numbers.
40 Jean-Luc Nancy, “Theater als Ort des Anderen”, p. 60.
41 Le Sacre du printemps, concept and performance: Xavier Le Roy; music: Igor
Stravinsky; recorded by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Simon Rattle;
artistic consultants; Berno Odo Polzer, Bojana Cvejic; production: in stitu produc-
tions (D) and Le Kwatt (F); co-producer: Centre choreographique national de Mont-
pellier Languedoc-Roussillon (Xavier Le Roy was associated artist in 2007/08), Les
Substitances/Residence  –Lyon, “Tanz im August”  – International Dance Festival
2007 – Berlin, PACT Zollverein, choreographic center NRW – Essen.
42 See the reviews by Pirkko Husemann, “Tanz des Dirigenten. ‘Le Sacre du print-
emps’ von Xavier Le Roy bei Tanz im August 2007”, published 2007 at corpusweb,


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lished by the discourse and interviews with Le Roy printed in the pro-
gramme reproduce the idea that the origin of the piece lay in the idea of
embodying the expressive conductor movements of Sir Simon Rattle.
This repeatedly crops up in the texts on this performance in quotation
of Xavier Le Roy: “It really started with the movie. […] when I saw Sir
Simon Rattle conducting the piece, I had the feeling that he made me
think that I could see another Rite of Spring.”43
Xavier Le Roy’s Sacre is a solo performance: Le Sacre du printemps
without orchestra and without dancers. Translated into the choreo-
graphic relations of the plural-singular: without a corps de ballet. What
is to be seen? I quote the concise description by Bojana Cvejić, who
was the dramaturge of this piece by Le Roy:

In his solo Le Sacre du printemps (2007) a man comes on stage, and turns
his back on an audience bathed in brilliant light. On the downbeat of his
first move (which seems to resemble the gesture made by a musical conduc-
tor), the opening bars of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps emerge from
under the spectators’ seats. A few minutes later, the man turns to face the
audience directly and starts to ‘conduct’ them, calling on individual specta-
tors to ‘play’ their ‘instruments’ as and when the music requires it. Things
are immediately complicated, however, because the movements that would
normally produce sound are instigated, in advance, by the music itself. The
impression is of a mechanical karaoke. If the man were to leave the stage, it
appears that the music would simply continue by itself. The ‘conductor’ in
this strange concert is, of course, Le Roy who is performing in front of, and
crucially with, an audience. The latter is seated in a conventional theatre
auditorium that ‘mimics’ the spatial design of a symphonic orchestra in a
concert hall […].44

Austrian online platform for dance:

en-15.html, last access on July 24th 2011; Sabine Holzer, “Code Sacre du Print-
emps. Xavier Le Roy dirigiert Strawinsky im Tanzquartier Wien”, published 2007 at
corpusweb, ibid,, last
access on July 24th 2011; or Gia Kourlas: “All the Rite moves. Xavier Le Roy faces the
music (and sort of dances)” (2007), in:
dance/18039/all-the-rite-moves, last access on July 24th 2011.
43 Compare Gia Kourlas, “All the Rite moves”.
44 See also Bojana Cvejić, “Xavier Le Roy: The Dissenting Choreography of one
Frenchman less”, article on the website of Xavier Le Roy: “Recasting Le Sacre du
/page.php?id=4b530eff077090c4cdd558852f04f24fb0840bae&lg=en, last access on
July 24th 2011.


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Plates 1 and 2: Xavier Le Roy, Le Sacre du Printemps, Videostills

The mimicking of the conducting gestures changes in the course of

the performance. The expressive intensifications – of movement and
of mime – are interrupted at significant stages of the action: Le Roy
remains calmly standing at his place, listening intently and without
(conducting) movements to the music, which continues to stream from
the loudspeakers; or he strolls casually to the edge of the stage, with
the gesture of off-performance.
These pauses are followed by a resumption of the conducting motions.
Towards the end of Sacre, in the sacrificial dance of the Chosen One,
the conducting movements intensify, their dynamic culminating in a
series of leaps. At this point the conducting gestures are combined
with quotations or allusions from Nijinsky’s choreography for Le Sacre
du printemps (1913) and from its reconstruction by Millicent Hodson
(1987)45 and that of Pina Bausch (1975)46, a repertoire of quotations
that may be indecipherable to but few viewers, yet as a portrayal of
movement, which creates that extra in the performance, the “extra

45 See also different articles by Millicent Hodson such as: “Ritual Design in the
New Dance: Nijinsky’s Choreographic Method”, Dance Research: The Journal of
the Society for Dance Research, Edinburgh Univ. Press, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 1986):
pp. 63–77; or: “Ritual Design in the New Dance: Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps”,
Dance Research, Vol. III, No. 2 (Summer 1985): pp. 35–45.
46 On Bausch’s Sacre compare: Gabriele Brandstetter, “Le Sacre du printemps. Cho-
reographie und Ritual”, eds. Corinna Caduff, Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka, Rituale heute.
Theorien – Kontroversen – Entwürfe (Berlin: Reimer, 1999), pp. 127–148; or Gabriele
Brandstetter, Gabriele Klein, eds., Methoden der Tanzwissenschaft. Modellanalysen
zu Pina Bauschs “Le Sacre du Printemps” (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2007).


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benefit” of which Nancy speaks, it can be aesthetically experienced by
all sensitive viewers.
In Sacre, Le Roy dispenses with reference figures both of dance and
of music. In so doing he dispenses with such conventions of artistic re/
presentation as conducting or dancing. And he also dispenses with the
framework and organizational forms of art: the institutional aspect of a
concert is just as pared down as that of a dance/ballet performance at
the opera. At the same time the “dispensed with” configurations of art
presentation are restored – albeit fragmentarily, in references and hints:
the empty (theatre) space; the demarcation of (concert, theatre) audi-
ence and stage, and, finally, the performance of only one performer –
pars pro toto47 – one for all. Thus the conventionalized interpretation
patterns for the presentation are also dispensed with. Indeed, they are
not only dispensed with but destroyed. Is what Le Roy is showing on
the stage “conducting”? Is it “dancing”? Or both? Or neither?48 In so far
as Le Roy’s performance destroys what Adorno would call an “identi-
fying” perception and repeatedly undermines attributions in nuances
or in clear breaks, he opens that aesthetic space of the Other in which
the “zero benefit” (Nancy) lurks as extra and potential for resistance.
Of course one can see Le Roy’s Sacre as socially critical: as an ironic or
parodistic reworking of the conducting rites of the concert hall: a game
with the fringes of the art scene, demonstrated in the shift from the
(wealthiness) of the established philharmonic orchestra to the (poor?
less rich?) off-scene of performance art. However, the “differently”
political (heteropolitical) aspect of this performance – in the sense of

47 See also Noémie Salomon, “Conducting Movement: Xavier Le Roy and the
Amplification of Le Sacre du printemps”, Dance Research Journal, 43/1 (Summer
2011): pp. 65–80. In her article on Xavier Le Roy’s Le Sacre du printemps Noémie
Salomon focusses this aspect of conducting as dance. Upon the idea of conducting
as a practice of wielding power (and “the anti-Semitic background of the art of
conduct” (p. 73) with a view to Adorno’s denegation of Strawinsky’s music) Salo-
mon interprets Le Roy’s performance as “nothing but dance” (p. 74): “Le Roy’s art
of conduct thus intensifies the work of the body and its abilities to act and react;
[…] it amplifies gestures, sounds, affects, and histories through – and as – move-
ment, thus expanding the choreographic territory to the forceful, exhilarating, and
transformative gestures of conducting.” (p. 78). Hence, the musical fractions, the
pauses, the torsions – the turn of the figure –, as well as the inter-medial aspect and
the potentially critical part of Le Roy’s Performance are, in my opinion, overlooked
in this article.
48 See also Gabriele Brandstetter, “‘Tournez, s’il vous plaît’. Figurationen der
Wendung im Bild der Rückenfigur: Zu E.T.A. Hoffmans Die Fermate und Xavier Le
Roys Performance Sacre”, ed. Daniel Müller Nielaba, Yves Schumacher, Christoph
Steier, Figur – Figura – Figuration: E. T. A. Hoffmann (Würzburg: Königshausen &
Neumann, 2011).


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the aforementioned theory of an aesthetic negativity of art – goes even
I would like to explore this question on the basis of two key aspects
of Le Roy’s Sacre: one concerning “conducting  – dancing”; and the
other “sacrifice”, sacrificium.

Conducting – dancing: dilettantism or the indecisiveness of motion?

Even a viewer possessing no information about the background to

Le Roy’s performance, i.e. one who is unfamiliar with Sir Simon Rat-
tle’s film Rhythm is it!,49 will be confronted as a viewer in multiple
ways with Le Roy’s “mono” performance of conducting, involving the
absence of referential patterns; the dark empty stage, the music coming
from loudspeakers, and the “conducting” dancer’s facing the audience,
his addressing of the spectator directly with typical movements and
cue gestures of conducting, and finally the pauses, the different move-
ments that are out of synch with the conducting role – all this makes
the performance in a certain sense unqualifiable. Something seems
familiar – and yet it is still not possible to evaluate the performance on
well-known rules. It is the aesthetic experience of an Other. Something
is not quite right. It would be interesting to investigate the various
attempts at qualifying Le Roy’s “conducting”: starting with musicians,
or connoisseurs who diagnose “errors” in his technique of conducting,
through those who feel uneasy or “out of place” when he is treating
the audience “as orchestra”, to those who see the performance as a
game, or find it “funny”.50 For the sake of my argument, however, it
is the difference between mastery/virtuosity (of conducting) and dilet-
tantism that is of primary interest. The tradition of the great or “virtu-
oso” conductor extends from the 19th to the 20th centuries, from Hans
von Bülow to Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan, and Sir Simon
Rattle too. In the figure of the conductor a dual model of the virtuoso
crystallizes: the outstanding mastery of an instrument and the fasci-

49 The relation to this film, i.e. the “source” of the performance in a film/video,
the intermediality, and the question of the “educational” context of this project of
Rattle as a “project”, would require a separate analysis. One could advance the
thesis that here too Le Roy’s Sacre adopts a contrary position that is aesthetically
immanent and “negative”, as his concept of “learning”/assimilating runs counter to
the “disciplinary model” of Roysten Maldoom as shown in the film.
50 See also Gia Kourlas, “All the Rite moves. Xavier Le Roy faces the music (and
sort of dances)”, where Kourlas quotes Le Roy’s comments on different reactions
by the audience.


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nation he exercises over the audience on the basis of a performance
about his self. It is a doubly hierarchical performance model, since
the instrument in this case is the apparatus, the body of the orchestra,
which the conductor masters with the slightest flick of a finger (or of
the conductor’s baton, which signifies the imperial gesture). And by
virtue of this power over a (multi-part) sound-body he also exercises a
powerful fascination over the audience.51 Adorno expresses in extreme
form the fetishization bestowed upon the public figure of the virtuoso
conductor when he writes: “Nicht umsonst gemahnt die Herrschaft
der arrivierten Dirigenten an die des totalitären Führers […]. Er ist der
eigentlich moderne Typ des Virtuosen: als band leader so gut wie in
der Philharmonie”.52 Le Roy’s mimesis, the imitation of the virtuoso,
the highly expressive figure of the conductor deconstructs this position
of power and the hierarchies associated with it by the way of his “con-
ducting” the movements of conduction. Even if Le Roy’s “background
narrative”53 suggests his debt to the conductor Sir Simon Rattle, his
conducting plays out the difference to the virtuoso conductor.54

51 On the virtuoso/conductor as a role model in the history of music and perfor-

mance compare Raymond Holden, The virtuose conductors. The Central European
tradition from Wagner to Karajan (New Haven, 2005) and D.K. Holoman, “The
Emergence of the Orchestral Conductor”, ed. Peter Bloom, La musique à Paris de les
années 1830 (New York, 1986), pp. 374–430. On the transference of the model of the
virtuosic conductor to experiences of collective virtuosity compare Mark Marotto et.
al., “Leadership as Collective Virtuosity”, Working Paper No. 8 (Lausanne: Imagina-
tion Lab Foundation, 2001); as well Mark Marotto et. al., “Collective Virtuosity. An
Aesthetic Experience in Groups”, Working Paper No. 27 (Lausanne: Imagination
Lab Foundation, 2003) and Mark Marotto et. al., “Collective Virtuosity in Organiza-
tions: A Study of Peak Performance in an Orchestra”, Journal of Management Stud­
ies, 44:3, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007): pp. 388–413.
52 See also Theodor W. Adorno, “Über den Fetischcharakter in der Musik und die
Progression des Hörens”, Dissonanzen. Musik in der veralteten Welt (Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1956), pp.  9–45, here: p.  27. (“Not for nothing is the
power of the successful conductors reminiscent of that of the totalitarian leader
[…]. He is in fact the type of the modern virtuoso: whether as band leader or as
the conductor of a philharmonic orchestra”, (translated by Iain W.M. Taylor). On
the question of “conducting” compare Noémie Salomon; within her argumentation
she is drawing on an fascistic and anti-Semitic history of the power of conducting
(p. 70–73), whereas my interpretation of the “power” of the conductor refers to the
configuration of “virtuoso” and audience – and the question, how traces of dilettan-
tism and imperfection within Le Roy’s performance break the power and constraint
of the conductor/virtuoso-model.
53 See also Gia Kourlas and Le Roy’s comments on his impression of the movie
Rhythm is it! where Sir Simon Rattle conducts Le Sacre.
54 The question of whether and exactly how an actor’s imitation of conducting can
be construed as “conducting” is also discussed, with controversial opinions.


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The transmitted sound from loudspeakers placed under the seats of
the audience, reinforces the impression of difference created by this
“conducting”: The time lapse – the performer conducts the canned/
reproduced (recorded) musical performance “retroactively” – and the
mechanical playing of this recording via loudspeakers,55 regardless
of whether Le Roy makes directing gestures or their motions or just
stands still, make it evident that hierarchical models of art production
and aesthetic experience are being questioned here. The programme
of the performance mentions the effect of an inversion of cause and
function thus unfolds the gestures and the movements that are meant
to prompt musicians to play seem at the same time to be produced
by the music that they are supposed to produce.56 Le Roy opens an
intermediate zone, in a temporal-spatial movement of irresolution,
in which various forms of liveness take place. The counter-model
to the virtuoso is not just that of the dilettante. Even if we were to
use a more positive term like amateur, there is more at stake here
than the dichotomies between professionals and laity. The fact that
Le Roy’s “conducting” – in the unqualifiable zone between mimesis
of conducting movements, expressive ballet-mime performance, and
self-interrupting reflection – is to be assigned neither to the virtuoso
nor the dilettante, lends the performance the potential of an aesthetic
of alterity.57 Bojana Cvejić has referred to this act in Le Roy’s Sacre
as “recasting.”58 She relates this process and Jacques Rancière’s The
Ignorant Schoolmaster to Le Roy’s “conducting seen as an exercise
in emancipation.” As opposed to this “emancipatory” interpretation I
would like to underline the production of the void: the dynamic that
goes along with a gap of difference, which sets in motion a recasting
(a “Umbesetzung” in the sense as the philosopher Hans Blumenberg

55 The Karaoke dimension of conducting to recordings, the “music-minus-one”

auto-performance of a hobby conductor would have to be regarded in this context.
56 See also Xavier Le Roy, Bojana Cevjic, Le Sacre du printemps, programme bill
(New York, 2007).
57 Le Roy’s performance thus opens up a play with an aesthetic of imperfection.
On questions of “improvisation”, conducting and imperfection see as well Karl E.
Weick, “The aesthetic of imperfection in orchestras and organizations”, eds. Ken N.
Kamoche, Miguel Pina e Cunha, João Vieira da Cunha, Organizational improvisation
(London, New York, 2002), pp. 166–184; as well Karl Weick, “Improvisation as a
mindset for organizational analysis”, Organization Science, Vol. 9, No. 5, Special
Issue: “Jazz Improvisation and Organizing” (Hanover, Maryland: INFORMS, 1998):
pp. 543–555.
58 See also Bojana Cvejić, “Recasting Le Sacre du printemps”: “Le Roy rejects a
pedagogical choreography. Instead of showing the spectators what music could
mean choreographically, he asks them to pretend to create it.”


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coins the term) of a wide variety of positions and figurations of the
aesthetic. This also includes the “figure” of the audience.59 In Le Roy’s
Sacre the audience is not an “audience” in the sense of a closed unity;
not an audience as a multitudinous communal body that is positioned
opposite the “body” of performers (orchestra/ballet) of a performance
of Le Sacre du printemps. The other side, the opposite is inverted the
moment Le Roy – back on stage with his back to the audience – turns
around to face it and, imitating a conductor’s movements, treats it
as an orchestra, as if he were standing face to face with the various
groups of musicians to whom he was giving cues. At his moment of
turning the unities of the normal performance set-up collapse, and the
conventions of representation are shaken. This theatrical “as if” – Le
Roy conducting the audience as a fictitious orchestra  – points once
again to the aesthetic negativity of this process. The gaze – the gaze
back, from the stage into the audience  – divides and particularizes
the “community” (the audience in the singular), that appears in the
bright light of the space not as a unity (neither as a fictitious “sound-
body” nor as a “play-along” auditorium). Instead the atomization of
the participants in that randomly gathered collective becomes visible
and evident – in the numerous different reactions to the performance
to be read in the face of the individual spectator: approving, listening,
sceptical, observant, indifferent, distracted.
Space is opened up for a further shift in the performance of Xavier
Le Roy: in his addressing of a collective that as an audience does not
exactly correspond to the image of a community marked by unity. Not
cohesiveness, but a “unifying” atmosphere marks the aesthetic experi-
ence. “Community” thus becomes recognizable as an (performance-
theory or political?) ideological construct. Le Roy’s performance inter-
rupts the notion of “audience” as an imaginary quantity.

Le Sacre du printemps: Aesthetic circumcision of the sacrifice

Le Roy’s performance also places a question mark over the theme of

“sacrifice” (as opposed to victim). We may put it succinctly as follows:
Le Roy’s version of Le Sacre du printemps disengages the meaning of
the sacrifice. The myth of the ballet by Stravinsky/Nijinsky centres on

59 On new studies on audience and spectatorship in different fields of performance

studies compare the issue “Audience”, ed. Tom Sellar, Theatre, Vol. 40, No 5 (New
York: Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theatre, 2010); there see Miriam Felton-
Dansky, “Watching the Watchers. New Studies of Spectators and Spectatorship”,
pp. 43–53.


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Plate 3: Audience, Le Sacre du Plate 4: Xavier Le Roy, Le Sacre du
Printemps, Videostill Printemps, Photo: Vincent Cavavoc

a virtual human sacrifice – a “primitive” fertility ritual. The “scenes”

from a fictitious “heathen Russia”60 are historically set in the context
of primitivism in Europe. One can also read Sacre, as Modris Ekstein
has done, as an allegory of the phantasms of those who sacrificed
their lives in the First World War.61 The fact remains that in view of
the fundamental significance of the sacrifice in Sacre there is hardly a
Modernist choreography that issues such a direct, differentiated and
even contradictory challenge to think about the theme of sacrifice.
This very challenge provokes choreographers who produce a version,
a re-vision, or a recasting of Le Sacre du printemps to take a stand.
And whatever the choreographic answer to the question of the status
of the sacrifice may be, it will always be both an aesthetic and a politi-
cal statement. With his version of Le Sacre du printemps Xavier le Roy
has taken a negative decision. Not only that he has organized the
performance in such a way as to exclude the question of the victim. He
questions the modernist aesthetic and the value of the sacrifice. The
mythical narrative, the legitimation and the choreographic representa-
tion of the sacrificium (in its community-related function) have been
left out. By shifting his interest from the choreography of a represen-
tational dance piece and its history to music (as concert performance

60 Le Sacre du printemps. Tableaux de la Russie païenne en deux parties (engl. The

Rite of Spring. Pictures from Pagan Russia), is choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky
and composed by Igor Stravinsky, for the Ballets Russes. Stage design by Nicholas
Roerich. Premiere: on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris.
61 See also Modris Ekstein, Tanz über Gräben; on this topic see inter alia
Gabriele Brandstetter, “Ritual as Scene and Discourse: Art and Science Around
1900 as Exemplified by Le Sacre du printemps”, The world of music, Journal of
the Department of Ethnomusicology, Otto-Friedrich Univ. of Bamberg 40.1 (1998):
pp. 37–59.


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by the conductor), Le Roy abandons any attempt at a re-vision of Le
Sacre du printemps as a self-contained piece of dance theatre. Above
all, by opening gaps and introducing caesurae he rejects the aesthetic
sacrifice of art: neither the history of dance as a discipline – the physi-
cal self-sacrifice of the dancer for the dance, nor the mastery of the
virtuoso conductor (or of a virtuoso actor) takes the place of the ritual
votive sacrifice of Sacre. In this aesthetic circumcision of the sacrifice
theme and the heroic legend associated with it we see, in my opinion,
the political aspect of this performance.62 In his study of communitas
Roberto Esposito represents the thesis that in the political theory of
the modern age, since Thomas Hobbes, the “pyramid of sacrifice” is
a dominant feature.63 We are left with the paradox: “Life is preserved
on condition of its sacrificing – through the sum of the renunciations
of which the sovereign authorization consists.”64 The treatment of the
dynamic of sacrifice, “between assumption of guilt and the decree of
sacrifice,”65 says Esposito, marks the dual nature of communitas: the
social element and its rejection, its undermining.66 The fact that in
Le Roy’s Le Sacre du printemps the sacrifice is not able to be “conse-
crated” or celebrated, that it is not able to found an ecstatic community
as a unified collective body, that the universal work of art (Gesamt­
kunstwerk) – the unity of music, dance, sound, movement – cannot be
revived – all this is expressed by the aesthetic negativity of Le Roy’s
Sacre – with its inversions, caesurae and temporal shifts. And it can be
seen in the changing facial expressions of the viewers as much as in
the movements of Xavier le Roy.

Translation from the German by Iain W.M. Taylor

62 At the same time Le Roy’s performance is also a comment on the cult of Le

Sacre du printemps, as may be seen from the fact that he took the film Rhythm is
it! as the starting point of his study. Also, his Sacre version is not least a statement
on the question of the treatment of Nijinsky’s original choreography which has
survived in incomplete form (despite the reconstruction by Millicent Hodson). By
interpreting Stravinsky’s score, Le Roy shifts the focus from dance piece to musical
performance – with the paradox, that it is performed as a movement (in the double
sense of the word: in “corporeality” and in the terminology of music).
63 Esposito refers here to the study by Peter Berger, Pyramids of Sacrifice (New
York: 1974), compare Esposito, Communitas, p. 28.
64 Ibid.
65 Ibid., p. 68
66 Ibid., p. 18 f.


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Mark Franko

Myth, Nationalism and Embodiment in American Document

Despite Martha Graham’s distaste for sectarian politics of the early

thirties, her refusal of the Nazi Culture Ministry’s invitation to dance
at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games was politically motivated.1 Graham’s
anti-fascism dates from her response to Rudolf von Laban:

I would find it impossible to dance in Germany at the present time. So

many artists whom I respect and admire have been persecuted, have been
deprived of their right to work, and for such unsatisfactory and ridiculous
reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting
this invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible.2

From this time until the outbreak of World War II Graham was active
in the popular front. A report on a talk she delivered in 1937 – Nazi
Destruction of the Arts  – shows that Graham learned of Laban’s fall
from favor with the Culture Ministry after the Olympic Games.3 Graham
asserted in 1939 that dance itself in Germany had been “proscribed;
bound down.”4 But she conceded: “What conditions exist today, at this
time, I do not know, because very little comes out.”
The antifascist position in American art dates officially from the 1936
American Artists’ Congress. Graham collaborators Barbara Morgan
and Isamu Noguchi were signers of the original call for the Congress;
Morgan’s name also appears in 1939 on the Executive Board list of the
New York Branch.5 Graham addressed the second national convention

1 For a discussion of Graham’s politics and aesthetics in the early thirties, see
my Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1995) and The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002).
2 Martha Graham, Letter to Rudolf von Laban, March 14, 1936. Scrapbooks, Martha
Graham archive, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Those who would not be
welcome in Germany were the Jewish members of Graham’s company.
3 “A Dancer and an Educator on Fascism”, Dance Observer (March 1937). See
Lilian Karina, “Laban’s Downfall and Post-Labanism”, ed. Lilian Karina and Marion
Kant, Hitler’s Dancers. German Modern Dance and the Third Reich, transl. Jonathan
Steinberg (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2003), pp. 57–61.
4 Martha Graham, “A Dancer Speaks, a talk delivered at the Professional Conference
against Nazi Persecution,” TAC (January 1939).
5 Morgan contributed to a discussion about the inclusion of photography in the Amer-
ican Artists’ Congress. See her “Photography and the Plastic Arts,” The American


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of the Congress in 1937.6 At the Public Session at Carnegie Hall Erika
Mann read a message from Thomas Mann, and Pablo Picasso spoke
to the assembly by telephone. Graham also addressed the symposium
Nazi War Over Europe held by the American Committee for Anti-Nazi
Literature on February 14, 1937.
The political agenda of the American Artists’ Congress consisted not
only of its opposition to fascism abroad; it also opposed curtailment
of civil liberties at home, and was anti-war. The 1941 call, In Defense
of Culture, states:

Today the Fascist threat has come full circle. In a traditionally free and
liberty loving America, Fascism comes in the name of anti-Fascism. All the
enemies of progress suddenly become defenders of democracy. Our liberties
are destroyed to defend liberty and the policies to which our people are
committed by their government, in the name of peace, border ever closer
on overt war.7

Antifascism was not exhausted by a celebration of democracy; it was

equally, and perhaps more importantly, a critical response to the erosion
of democratic values that can result from opposing fascism. “Fascism
comes in the name of anti-Fascism”. As Eric Hobsbawm has pointed
out: “[A]ntifascist nationalism was patently engaged in a social as well
as a national conflict.”8 Identifying these aspects of antifascism enable
me to shift the critical terrain away from representation as a form of

Artist. News Bulletin of the American Artists, Congress vol. 1/no. 2 (Summer 1937).
6 3rd Annual Membership Exhibition. American Artists’ Congress (February 5–26,
1939). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C. The
John Reed clubs charter contained a platform against imperialist war and fascism
since 1932. See also Matthew Baigell, Julia Williams, eds., Artists against War and
Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists’ Congress (Rutgers: Rutgers University
Press, 1986). I have been unable to locate the text of Graham’s talk, “The Dance: An
Allied Art”. The theme was the artist in relation to peace, according to “The Open
Session at Carnegie Hall,” American Artist. News Bulletin of the American Artists
Congress Vol. I, no. 3 (Winter 1937), p. 1.
7 A Call to a Congress of American Artists in Defense of Culture, June 6-7-8, 1941,
New York City. Archives of American Arts, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.
Morgan was a signer of the call for the American Artists’ Congress, and her name
also appears on the Executive Board list of the New York Branch. Morgan lobbied for
the inclusion of photography in the membership of the American Artists’ Congress:
“To incorporate this group of workers in the body of the Congress would be a great
stimulation,” she wrote in “Photography and the Plastic Arts”, The American Artist.
New Bulletin of the American Artists’ Congress, vol. I, no. 2 (Winter 1937), p. 1.
8 Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 147.


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democratized aesthetics in this discussion of American Document to
the relationship between aesthetic and political representation.

The Impact of American Document

When Graham’s American Document premiered at Carnegie Hall in

New York City on October 9, 1938 it engendered a sense of community
between the general public and the dance world, and within the dance
world itself, where such community had not previously existed.9 Lin-
coln Kirstein, despite previous aesthetic gripes, extolled “the quality
of Graham’s idiosyncratic gesture formulating just what she meant to
say.” 10 Kirstein implied that in American Document Graham avoided
the traps of national folklore into which so many choreographic pro-
ductions of this period had fallen, including Kirstein’s own projects.
The left-wing press, for its part, set aside its persistent political mis-
givings about Graham’s oeuvre: New Masses  – the most prominent
left-wing cultural publication of the thirties – sponsored the New York
premiere. While I do not have the space here to analyze the Libretto
and the piece in detail the original version was critical of injustices in
American history.11 Its critical stance was directly related to anti-fascist
politics. My claim here is that antifascism is the most productive lens
through which to view this work, and the analysis that follows focuses
in particular on the politics of body image with respect to myth, utopia
and the photographic image.
The first national tour of an American dance company in 1939
confirmed American Document as the first American modern dance to
address national identity, and Graham as the first American modern
dancer to reach a national if something short of a mass audience: its

9 The original score was by Ray Green. It is preserved in the Music Division of the
Library of Congress. Green was married to Graham dancer May O’Donnell.
10 See Lincoln Kirstein, “Dance: Martha Graham at Bennington,” The Nation,
September 3, 1938, American Document clippings file, Dance Collection, New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Owen Burke’s review in
New Masses was highly favorable.
11 An earlier version of this paper was published as “L’utopie antifasciste: Ameri­
can Document de Martha Graham”, ed. Claire Rousier, Etre ensemble (Pantin: Centre
national de la danse, 2003), pp. 283–306. This paper is also a much shorter version
of a chapter in Martha Graham in Love and War: The Life in the Work (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 14–44, in which the politics of American Docu­
ment are analyzed in greater detail.


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Fig. 1: New Masses cover publicizing
the première of Martha Graham’s
American Document (1938) with
a caricature of Graham by
Albert Hirschfeld.

success propelled her to national prominence.12 “Martha Graham,” one

critic wrote, “has not only succeeded in interpreting America but her
vital art has enabled America to interpret modern dance.”13 Graham’s
new political orientation made her work more legible to the general
pubic. “I want the audience,” she said in a rare interview with The
Daily Worker, “to feel no obscurity or doubt at any time about what is
happening on stage.”14

12 See Catherine Vickery, “‘American Document’ Tours America,” Dance Observer

6/4 (April 1939): p. 205–206. This article weighs the size of turnout in different geo-
graphical locales and the level of audience enthusiasm. In 1936 Graham embarked
on a transcontinental solo tour that took her to Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Tacoma,
Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Stanford, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Colorado
Springs, Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.
13 Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 2, 1939 quoted from a 1940 flyer of
“Martha Graham and Dance Group,” Martha Graham archive, Library of Congress,
Washington, D.C.
14 Marcia Minor, “Graham Interprets Democracy. Uses Militant Theme as Climax
of Dance Presented in the Form of a Documentary Play,” The Daily Worker, October


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To like American Document became almost a patriotic duty. The
Hollywood Citizen News asserted: “If there is any American who can
witness Martha Graham’s new dance composition ‘American Docu-
ment’ without emerging from the experience a finer, prouder citizen,
that person is impervious to reason, numb to emotion, insensible to
art.”15 The American Dancer reported in 1942 that Graham’s company
performed in “convention halls, sport palaces on the scale of Madi-
son Square Garden” where “the response was so thunderous that the
performers were often frightened at the sound, the cheers being as
mighty as for a new world’s record in some sport.”16 It remained in
active repertory until 1944, but by this time the piece had been purged
of its critical dimension. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Graham’s
national breakthrough had a political basis.17
Graham originally conceived American Document as a response
to the demagoguery of Nazi speechifying: “our own country  – our
democracy – has words, too, with power to hearten men and move
them to action.”18 She had been “listening to the vicious and terrifying
words sent over the air from the Axis countries.”19 Fascist orality, as
Alice Yaeger Kaplan has called it, was a political phenomenon of the
1930s.20 A “new culture of the senses”, as Inge Baxmann has named
it, wedded a pulsating kinesthetic imaginary of the body and the voice
to the broadcasting potentials of radio, film and photography.21 This
culture of the senses bore witness to the power of live and mediatized
embodiment as the weapon of choice in ideological struggle. New
communication technologies not only took up the body and the
voice as the proper starting points for such effects, these technologies
emulated and simulated embodiment as such. If radio produced a voice

4, 1938. Statements that reveal Graham’s political intent were confided only to the
Daily Worker or in personal correspondence.
15 Review dated March 11, 1939, quoted from a 1940 flyer of “Martha Graham and
Dance Group”, Martha Graham archive, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
16 The American Dancer (April 1942), Martha Graham Collection, Music Division,
Library of Congress, Scrapbooks.
17 Maureen Needham Costonis cited American Document for Graham’s demonstrated
ability to mix politics with art. See her “American Document: A Neglected Graham
Work”, Proceedings Society of Dance History Scholars, Twelfth Annual Conference,
Arizona State University, 17–19 February 1989, pp. 72–81.
18 “Dance Libretto: American Document, by Martha Graham,” Theatre Arts 26/9
(September 1942), p. 565.
19 Ibid.
20 Alice Yaeger Kaplan, Reproductions of Banality: Fascism, Literature, and French
Intellectual Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 125.
21 Inge Baxmann, Mythos Gemeinschaft: Körper und Tanzkulturen in der Moderne
(Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2000), pp. 179–252.


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that invaded the privacy of the home, film and photography projected
dynamic impressions of corporeality in public space, magnifying it on
the screens of movie theatres and in the pages of newspapers and
magazines. To understand how Graham’s choreography expressed
antifascist politics we need first to understand that the ideological con-
test between fascism and liberal capitalism was not only conducted
across a common symbolism, but in embodied terms. In fact, the term
symbol itself as associated with ideologically inflected images is most
likely a misnomer.

Myth, Embodiment and the Image

This tension between embodiment and the image lent corporeality

a mythic dimension. As Georges Sorel, the theorist of revolutionary
syndicalism, wrote: “A myth cannot be refuted, since it is, at bottom,
identical with the convictions of a group, being the expression of these
convictions in the language of movement”.22 Sorel related this mythical
awareness to the unique experience of decision-making:

It is very evident that we enjoy this liberty pre-eminently when we are making
an effort to create a new individuality in ourselves, thus endeavouring to
break the bonds of habit which enclose us […] It seems to me that this
psychology of the deeper life must be represented in the following way […]
To say that we are acting, implies that we are creating an imaginary world
placed ahead of the present world and composed of movements which
depend entirely on us.”23

Sorel likens myth to something whose image lies before us in and

as the future. In a certain sense, the ”expression of convictions in
the language of movement” is always an incipient phenomenon. That
moment of decision is impregnated with emotion: “[…] [W]hen the
masses are deeply moved,” notes Sorel, “it then becomes possible to
trace the outlines of the kind of representation which constitutes the
social myth.”24 Thus, he also specifies; “The myths are not descrip-
tions of things but expressions of a determination to act.” In other
terms, myth demands action whereas utopia does not: it is a represen-
tation of what is not there.

22 Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, trans. T. E. Hulme & J. Roth (Glencoe, IL:
the Free Press, 1950), p. 58.
23 Ibid., p. 55–6.
24 Ibid., p. 56.


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Utopia for Sorel, on the contrary, is an intellectual project.25 He
distinguishes between myth and utopia in the same manner as he
distinguishes between emotion and intellect. As Willy Gianinazzi
puts it in his discussion of Sorel: “utopia is an ideological process that
derails and bogs down the action of the masses.”26 Despite the popular
success of American Document it contained a utopian perspective by
virtue of its antifascist reflexive critique. When Graham said in 1937:
“This is a time of action, not re-action. The dance is action, not attitude,
not an interpretation,” this was only partially true.27 One would most
readily associate myth, as David Gross points out, with what he calls
“the action-image”.28 Myth is the proof of life in the image and of the
image in life.
In the midst of rehearsals for American Document in the summer
of 1937 dancer Jean Erdman, who had just married Joseph Campbell,
came to study with Graham at her Bennington College summer
residency, and joined the Company at the same time as did Erick
Hawkins. Hawkins had studied briefly with Harald Kreutzberg in
Salzburg in 1933 after which he returned to the US and enrolled in
Georges Balanchine’s School of American Ballet (1934–1938).29 He
became a member of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan and debuted in
Balanchine’s Serenade.30 His premiere as a modern dancer, however,
was in Graham’s American Document in 1937 at Bennington. Through
Erdman, Graham met Campbell, the mythologist and soon to be
popularizer of Jungian ideas. “In his talks with her up at Bennington”,
remembers Erdman, “he must have gotten going on his favorite
subject, mythology. She started reading the Greek myths and she got
very excited about doing them.”31 In that ominous year Graham met the
politically conservative Campbell whose enthusiasm for myth, along
with his devotion to Jung, would come into vogue in the US only after

25 Ibid., p. 57.
26 Willy Gianinazzi, Naissance du mythe moderne. Georges Sorel et la crise de la
pensée savante (1889–1914) (Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme,
2006), p. 85.
27 Martha Graham quoted in Merle Armitage, Martha Graham 1937 (New York:
Dance Horizons, 1966), p. 103.
28 David Gross, “Myth and Symbol in Georges Sorel”, eds. Seymour Drscher, David
Sabean, Allan Sharlin, Political Symbolism in Modern Europe. Essays in Honor of
George L. Mosse (New Brunswick, London: Transaction Books, 1982), p. 105.
29 Hawkins sailed for Europe on June 22, 1933 and returned on August 5th. Erick
Hawkins Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress: box 77, folder 4.
30 Serenade premiered on June 10, 1934 in White Plains, New York.
31 Jean Erdman interview with Don McDonagh, October 4, 1993, Dance Collection,
New York Pubic Library for the Performing Arts: *MGZTL 4–2567.


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1945, to continue well into the 1950s. Although Graham’s myth works
would only be choreographed in the postwar years she began to read
Jung avidly in the summer of 1937 according to Campbell virtually at
the same moment when she premiered her first anti-fascist solo  – a
response to the Spanish civil war – Immediate Tragedy.32 Campbell’s
refusal to take an anti-fascist position in a talk he gave at Sarah Law-
rence College in 1940, “Permanent Human Values,” received a stern
rebuke in 1941 from Thomas Mann whose advocacy Campbell had
hoped to enlist. Mann’s position on Hitler had changed since he expa-
triated – like Brecht and Adorno – to Santa Monica.33
Graham’s post-war engagement with Greek myth took root in the
pre-war antifascist moment – the very moment when Jung was also
establishing an institutional presence in the United States. The Analytic
Psychology Club of New York (now the C.G. Jung Center), with which
Graham’s analyst Frances Wickes was affiliated, was founded as of
January 1937.34 Graham’s interest in myth so often associated with
Jung came to her through Campbell: a conservative, if not to say
politically retrogressive source in her midst. In the fall of 1937, Jung
himself came to the U.S. to lecture at Yale University. Otto Rank, then
also living in New York City, wrote on October 15th to his disciple
Jessie Taft: “Jung is coming next week to this country, seemingly an
apostle of Nazism. In today’s issue of Saturday Review of Literature he
has an article on ‘Wotan’ justifying fascist ideology”.35

32 Joseph Campbell interviewed by Agnes DeMille, NYPL, MGZTC 3–1612.

Immediate Tragedy premiered in July 1937 at Bennington. The second anti-fascist
solo, Deep Song, was premiered in December 1937 in New York.
33 See Robert S. Ellwood, The Politics of Myth: A Study of C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade,
and Joseph Campbell (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 138–
34 One can note the conservative politics of the Club in its Bulletin. In the second
Bulletin an editorial casts doubt over the Jungian validity of the American Artists
Congress to which Graham belonged. See Gladys Taylor, Josephine Jenks Warren,
“The Artist and the Life About Him,” Bulletin of the Analytical Psychology Club of
New York City 1/2 (March 1939): p. 1–2.
35 Otto Rank letter to Jessie Taft quoted in E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will.
The Life and Work of Otto Rank (New York: The Free Press, 1985), p. 379. Jung’s
Wotan article was originally published in German in 1936 (Collected Works vol. 10,
pp. 179–93). Campbell, too, was politically conservative, and far from anti-fascist.
A talk he gave at Sarah Lawrence in 1941, “Permanent Human Values”, refused to
give Churchill the moral high ground over Hitler. The talk was severely criticized by
expatriate Thomas Mann in 1941 who had reversed his position on Naziism since
the 1918 “Reflections of an Unpolitical Man”. See Ellwood, The Politics of Myth,
p. 138–140. Campbell and Erdman only met with Jung personally at his retreat in
Bollingen in 1953 (ibid., p. 142). Both during and after the war the American public


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Leni Riefensthal’s documentary film practice was simultaneously
becoming a potent tool of Nazi propaganda. Olympia – the documen-
tary celebrating the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, which Graham had
declined to attend – premiered in 1938, the same year as did American
Document. Both works competed across the visual field of the body-
nation metaphor. The athletic and classically trained Hawkins is not
entirely distant from Riefenstahl’s semi-nude male athletes imitating
classical statuary in the opening sequence of Olympia.36 Ironically, the
camera and editing techniques of Olympia still identify it a landmark
of modernist cinema whereas American Document is now a virtually
forgotten work. It has been ‘revived’ twice, but without any intention
of reconstituting the original. American Document is unique in the Gra-
ham repertory for being considered not only unsalvageable, but also
undesirable in anything approaching its original form.

Action Photography as Document

Although Graham distrusted film as a document of live performance,

she did put her trust in the photography of Barbara Morgan. Beginning
in 1935 Barbara Morgan undertook the photo-documentation of
Graham’s dances in a “small, non-commercial theater” using “complex
lighting constructions.”37 Morgan’s photographs of Graham reached a
broad public by 1941 with the publication of Martha Graham: Sixteen
Dances in Photographs. This portfolio was advertised in the Book of
the Month Club’s “Say, Is this the U.S.A.” section, and featured in the
The New York Times Sunday Magazine (September 28, 1941). The
dissemination of photographic documentation of American Document
augmented the work’s circulation and took on a form unique in
itself: the action photograph. Graham’s heightened national visibility
owes something to the contemporaneous advances in Morgan’s
dance photography. Both Graham and Morgan were keenly aware of

remained impervious to the ambiguities of Jung’s statements between 1936 and

1939 about the Third Reich. According to William Graebner, Jungianism was part
and parcel of forties Americanism: “Americans of the forties also explored Jung’s
interest in a collective unconscious by fusing the Jungian emphasis on the collective
with certain early-1940s ideas of nationalism and the ‘people’ to locate, assert, and
celebrate a deep interest in ‘folk identity’.” – William Graebner, The Age of Doubt.
American Thought and Culture in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991),
p. 75.
36 Her dancing is preserved in the film Der Heilige Berg.
37 Barbara Morgan, “Modern Dance,” Popular Photography 16/16 (June 1945):
p. 68.


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photography’s power to witness the provocative relationship between
dance and action on the stage and in the still image. “Psychological
ramifications of the dance”, wrote Morgan, “are vast and powerful for
good or evil. Dance can release or induce hysteria.”38 Graham wrote:
“[Dance] communicates its participation to the nerves, the skin, the
structure of the spectator.”39 This dissection of the body into receptive
zones of nerves, skin, and structure significantly omits the category
of blood.
In a letter to Bertrand Russell of November 8, 1915 D.H. Law-
rence distinguished between what he called “blood-consciousness”
and “mental consciousness”.40 Lawrence took the notion of blood-
consciousness from his reading of Frazer’s The Golden Bough and
Totemism and Exogamy. He relates blood-consciousness to sexuality
in a manner parallel to the relation of mental consciousness to the
visual. “There is the blood-consciousness, with its sexual connection,
holding the same relation as the eye, in seeing, holds to the men-
tal consciousness.”41 Lawrence also relates mental-consciousness to
the nerves. Hence mind, eye, and nerves all participate in intellectual
activity. Blood consciousness, however, does not. We touch here upon
aspects of embodiment in modernism that were already in circulation
just before and during World War I. Approximately ten years later
Graham would grow interested in what Lawrence called “the half of
life, belonging to the darkness”. Her autobiography, Blood Memory,
subscribes to this idea.42 But, more saliently, her Jungianism, in evi-
dence especially after the war with Dark Meadow in 1946, subscribes
to a sort of communication not unrelated to Lawrence’s idea of blood-
Another important aspect of myth looks back to the past. Here we
might invoke that other anatomical receptor of the effects of move-
ment  – the bone structure  – Graham elaborated on the skeleton in
one of the libretti for Appalachian Spring, when she wrote: “This is a
legend of American living. It is like the bone structure, the inner frame
that holds together a people.”43 The skeleton is the armature of liv-

38 Ibid.
39 “Dance libretto,” p. 86.
40 D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, vol. 2, ed. George J. Zytaruk and
James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 470.
41 Ibid., p. 470.
42 The book is, however, not entirely trustworthy. See Victoria Geduld, “Martha
Graham’s Gilded Cage: Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)” forthcoming in
Dance Research Journal (2013).
43 Graham cited in Wayne D. Shirley, Ballet for Martha and Ballets for Martha
(Washington: Library of Congress, 1997), p. 14.


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ing matter but also a sort of futur antérieur – a will-have-been – that
stands between the present and the future as an incipient past. Philippe
Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy have discussed the Nazi myth
as a past that must be (re)lived. “The characteristic of Nazism (and
in many respects that of Italian fascism) is to have proposed its own
movement, and its own State, as the effective realization of a myth, or
as a living myth.”44 This gives us a second and important ingredient
of embodiment, according to which bodies are not only required to
convey an unshakable conviction in movement as incipient action at
the visceral level, but must also, in so doing, relive a mythical past that
prescribes such action. It is in this connection that Graham’s construal
of the historical text of national origins as a document rather than as a
myth both competes with fascist symbolism and opens a gap between
itself and fascist representational strategies.

The Utopian Structure of Action Photography

“This is the first decade of action photography,” wrote Morgan, “in

which it has been possible technically to photograph unrestrained
dance action.”45 Morgan set herself the task of capturing peak moments
thanks to which the dance inscribes itself in memory. “It is the role of
photography to seize such moments; to fuse reality, art, and time.”46
Dance photography could extend the reach of movement’s call to action
without undercutting its visceral qualities. “The still photograph,”
writes Morgan, “[is needed to] clarify the significant instants [of the
dance].”47 But, it does more than that: the photograph also sustains the
movement of dance toward the future. It preserves the positive effects
of action, as it were, in a permanent future.
The notion of action in the photograph relies on the future of
movement in the image. “Nothing,” notes Morgan, “seems emptier to
me than merely ‘stopping’ action […] So-called ‘stopping’ or achieving

44 “The Nazi Myth,” transl. Brian Holmes, Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990):
p. 304.
45 Morgan specifies: “Today great latitude of speed has become a commonplace by
virtue of fast pan film emulsions, fast corrected lenses, synchroflashes, speedlamps,
moviefloods, and photofloods. Action has free rein!” – The place of action in Mor-
gan’s aesthetics of dance photography deserves further analysis. Barbara Morgan,
“Dance Photography,” The Complete Photographer 18/3 (New York: National Edu-
cational Alliance, 1942): p. 1133.
46 Barbara Morgan, “Dance Into Photography,” Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in
Photographs (Hastings-on-Hudson: Morgan & Morgan, 1941), p. 149.
47 Morgan, “Dance Photography”, p. 1134.


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un-blurred form and detail in focus should be done with such a fine
logic of movement that it seemingly continues even though arrested
by the camera shutter.48 Morgan names the optimal moment of
photographic capture “the moment of greatest tension before the peak
[…] or the peak explosion of that tension.”49 To capture the continued
flow of dance in the still image, explains Morgan, the photographer
must anticipate movement. The photograph is only true to dance when
it shows us where movement will go, and this can only happen if
the photographer anticipates the moment she captures by clicking the
shutter before movement actually happens. “If the photograph is shot
in the tension peaks before the release, the picture should nevertheless
imply continuity.”50 Morgan understands action as continuity in the
image between a past, a present, and a future. But, action is equally a
discontinuity or, rather, the occasion for the spectator to do the work
of missing emplotment.51
This counterpoint between movement and image – between dance and
photography – indicates that we are dealing here with a phenomenon of
figuration, which Louis Marin has identified as a utopian phenomenon.
Imagined community is also, as Phillip E. Wegner points out, imaginary
community.52 It is this gap in the representation between the imagined
and the imaginary that also characterizes the performance of Graham’s
antifascist politics; American Document enacted an affirmation of
democracy and a utopian invocation of national community. It is this
utopian aspect of the performance that pertains to the gap between
image and motion, or the gap between the image and the motion that
follows it, a gap that haunts dance photography. We do not see where
movement will go. This inability to see movement’s destination, if
only symbolically, occurs in the gap between democratic ideals and
proto-fascist practices, which posit knowledge of where the body will
go because myth in the present is the re-living of a past reality. Dance
photography renders action as the search for continuity toward the
future and captures it through anticipation in the past of a present that
had not yet occurred.

48 Morgan, “Modern Dance”, p. 68.

49 Morgan, “Dance Photography”, p. 1136.
50 Morgan, “Modern Dance”, p. 68. The effective dance photo renders “the connec-
tive movements of the overall rhythmic structure.” Bunnell, “Introduction”, p. 8.
51 Paul Ricoeur refers to this as mimesis3 in Time and Narrative, vol. 3, transl.
Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).
52 Phillip E. Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial
Histories of Modernity (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002).


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Fig. 2: “This is One Man”: Erick
Hawkins in Martha Graham’s American
Document (1938) as photographed by
Barbara Morgan. © Barbara Morgan,
The Barbara Morgan Archive.

This is One Man

Hawkins’s entrance was captured in a famous Morgan photograph.

The Interlocutor says ”[…] This is one man. This is one million
men.”53 The text of these two scenes was so closely associated with
the dance that it appears under the plates in Morgan’s book. Hawkins’
energy appears barely contained within the frame, yet the breadth
of his stride also suggests a rootedness. He creates a space ahead of
himself that he is at the point of attaining; yet, he also appears to be
pulled backwards. Graham clearly exploits Hawkins’ presence here
with reference to contemporary iconography of the common man/
worker. His enterprising energy suggests the democratic ethos. “This
is one man,” announces the Interlocutor, ”This is one million men
[…] This man has a power. It is himself, and you.” Ellen Graff notes
that “Hawkins’ solo portraying the struggles of the work force [was]
probably the most explicit representation of working class America in
Graham’s dances.”54
The photograph of Hawkins with its legend begs the question of what
he represents. The issue of representation – both aesthetic and politi-
cal – emerges in the photograph with a certain complexity. Although
Hawkins’s appearance does bring the iconography of the worker to
mind, I would suggest he should be read as a figure of participatory

53 “Dance Libretto,” pp. 573–574.

54 Ellen Graff, Stepping Left: Dance and Politics in New York City, 1928–1942
(Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 125–127.


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democracy. “One Man” walking across the stage is proposed as an
aesthetic representation of a plurality of men (“one million men”). His
standing (or walking) for others is a function of democratic equality.
Further, One Man’s “power” is forceful only inasmuch as it is a (politi-
cal) representation: “This man has a power. It is himself, and you.”
His power resides in his equality with others; he shares his power with
others and he draws it from them. Hawkins, then, is an individual
inasmuch as he represents, or is (a) representative.
The worker, in other terms, enters Graham’s universe under the
aegis of representation. Hawkins not only represents the worker
in Graham’s oeuvre; he also stands for the work of (democratic)
representation. Kirstein observed that Hawkins “stood and walked
like a workman’s best idea of himself as a dancer,” suggesting that
the worker becomes a dancer in order to stress his equality with other
workers.55 Yet, representation also has a political dimension here. In
this dance celebrating democratic traditions, Hawkins stands apart
from the millions (or walks alone) precisely because he represents
them, as the representative would stand for the electorate.
F.R. Ankersmit argues in Aesthetic Politics that one of democracy’s
most positive if least understood traits is to sunder thought and action,
and thus to instance the “brokenness” of political reality.56 Democracy,
in other terms, works on analogy with the “crisis in representation” of
the aesthetic sphere. Just as no absolute match is possible in modern
art between the artwork and what it represents, this relationship being
recognized as in “crisis,” so political representatives retain a vexing
autonomy from those whom they represent. This autonomy of the
political agent (action) from the democratic constituency (thought
or intention) for Ankersmit is a positive if still troublesome trait of
representative democracy.
In the Afterpiece, Hawkins collapses the representative and the
represented into one body. But this collapse does not create a totality as
much as a divided state. He allegorizes democracy as the broken state
of political reality. And it is precisely for this reason that democracy
in American Document is something that needs to be sought for,

55 Lincoln Kirstein, “Dance: Martha Graham at Bennington,” The Nation,

September 3, 1938, American Document clippings file, Dance Collection, New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. This review was reprinted
in Ballet: Bias and Belief. Three Pamphlets Collected and Other Dance Writings of
Lincoln Kirstein (New York: Dance Horizons, 1983), pp. 69–71.
56 See F.R. Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics: Political Philosophy Beyond Fact and
Value (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), especially Chapter One: “Political
Representation: the Aesthetic State,” pp. 21–63.


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something that is not thoroughly established. The dance photograph
itself testifies to this brokenness. It is brokenness between mobility
and stillness, between performance and its visual reproduction; and,
in the dance, between ritual presentation and historical representation,
conventional patterns and undefined national space. If the document
is a figure of America’s past evoked by the choreography, and a
mechanism whereby the urgency of democratic processes can be
critically conveyed to a national public, it is also a vector of movement
rendered by Morgan’s action photography. But, the very figure of
the document is subject to discontinuity: the discrepancy between
image and flow. The truth of the document is the lack of its closure,
to speak like Hayden White, regarding its own narrative: “lack of
narrative closure points to weaknesses in systems of law, legality or
legitimacy.”57 Brokenness itself constitutes the figure of community
proper to American Document, and points toward that community’s
possible future political practices.

57 See Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,”

The Content of the Form. Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987): pp. 1–25.


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4. The Politics of the Social

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Ana Vujanović

Notes on the Politicality of Contemporary Dance

The connection between politics and dance is one of the most dis-
cussed topics in the performing arts today. Before I take a closer look
at what constitutes this link, I will introduce some epistemic and social
frameworks within which we can speak of politics when we speak
about contemporary performance and art in general. Then, I will con-
tinue with a discussion of the characteristic modalities of politicality
that I register on the actual international dance scene.
To begin with, I want to emphasize that my focus in this text will not
be a particular politics of contemporary dance. Rather, I want to con-
centrate on the problematics of politicality as the aspect of an artwork
or art practice that addresses the ways it acts and intervenes in the
public sphere. In doing so, politicality implies discussions about and
conflicts around topics such as the subjects and objects that perform
in a public sphere, the arrangement of positions and power relations
among them, the distribution of the sensible, and the ideological dis-
courses that shape a common symbolic and sensorial order of society,
which affects its material structure and partitions. Therefore, my aim
here is neither to advocate political art nor to divide dance perfor-
mances into socio-politically engaged ones on the one hand and l’art-
pour-l’art practices on the other hand. Instead, I would like to stress
the necessity to think a broad and complex grid of politicality as an
aspect that characterizes each and every performance – be it political
or apolitical, resistant or complicit, transformative or servile  – as a
social event that is practiced in public.

Why is there such a preoccupation with the political in art today?

During the 20th century the development of the mass media has con-
tested art’s visibility in the public sphere. Furthermore, the general
aestheticization of everyday life has deprived art of its almost exclu-
sive claim on the aesthetic sphere. Taking into account the histori-
cally marginal place of art in society, the question of why we should
deal with the politicality of dance and performance at all is a pressing
one. To answer it requires a broader rethinking of both the concept
of politics and the idea of art as a social practice. Trying to think this
question beyond metaphorical terms and metaphysical verifications,
I will straightforwardly – and thus to a certain extent schematically –


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i­ntroduce some critical theses both on the relocation and disappear-
ance of politics and on the politicization of art in the 20th and the
beginning of the 21st centuries.

According to Hannah Arendt,1 since the French Revolution politics in

modern Western society has been more and more preoccupied with
social questions. Its care about material goods and resources has there-
fore brought it close to the economical sphere and private interests. For
Arendt, the socialization of politics with its economic concerns means
the end of politics in its pure sense. Her view of pure politics relies on
the Greek legacy of political activity and thought  – on the Athenian
democracy and Aristotle’s writings, first of all – where politics was a
type of human activity called praxis. In its original sense, praxis is not
oriented toward existential needs (like ordinary human labour), nor (as
opposed to poiesis, production, work, making) does it result in mate-
rial objects as contributions to civilization. It is realized and exhausted
solely in itself, affecting actual social relations. Therefore, politics as a
praxis is a voluntary public activity of action and speech motivated nei-
ther by an existential necessity nor by an interest in material goods, but
by the concern of the free human being as a political being (the Athe-
nian citizen) with the aim of defining relationships between people.
From this standpoint, economic and other private interests belong to
the household and should stay there. As soon as they enter the public
sphere they instrumentalize politics, which leads to its end.
This far-reaching critique of politics in modern Western capitalist
societies has several widely discussed blind spots. What is important in
this context is that Arendt’s critique lacks a more careful consideration
of the relationship between the economic and the political spheres that
today obviously interrelate from the start. At the same time, Arendt’s
insight challenges the entire paradigm of artistic production based on
poiesis by the concept of performance as a potential artistic praxis.2 For
instance, in her book Between Past and Future she explains:

[In] the performing arts (as distinguished from the creative art of making),
the accomplishment lies in the performance itself and not in an end product
which outlasts the activity that brought it into existence and becomes

1 See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1998); and also further reflections in On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1991).
2 An elaborated critical answer to this challenge can be found in the work of the
Austrian group WochenKlausur; see:, especially
“From the Object to the Concrete Intervention”,
kunst.php?lang=en, Access: 26 March 2011.


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independent of it. […] The performing arts, on the contrary, have indeed
a strong affinity with politics. Performing artists  – dancers, play-actors,
musicians and the like – need an audience to show their virtuosity, just as
acting men need the presence of others before whom they can appear; both
need a publicly organized space for their ‘work’, and both depend upon
others for the performance itself.3

However, this elaboration again lacks more careful and more

historically determined consideration of the changed notions of
poiesis, praxis, and art, and their new relations under the current state
of capitalism.4

To go beyond Arendt’s perspective, I would like to introduce the theses

proposed by the Italian post-Operaist thinkers like Maurizio Lazzarato,
Antonio Negri, and Paolo Virno, who explain the disappearance of
politics differently. As this theory centres on the concept of immaterial
labour, their point of departure is the very fact that the borders
of politics and economy, or of praxis and poiesis today become
increasingly blurred. This blurring is actually how they answer the
question that was left unanswered by Arendt: How do we practice
politics and where is it located today, after it has ceased to be a specific
social activity? According to them, Western post-industrial post-Fordist
production already integrates elements of political practice. Hence the
disappearance of politics actually means that the political activity is
now subsumed under other social activities ranging from economy to
culture and art.5 Virno writes:

3 Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future; Six Exercises in Political Thought (New
York: The Viking Press, 1961), p. 153 f.
4 For further elaborations on this see: Giorgio Agamben, “Poiesis and Praxis”, “Pri-
vation Is Like a Face”, in The Man Without Content (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Univer-
sity Press, 1999), pp. 68–94, pp. 59–68. As Agamben’s theses would be a digression
on my main topic here, I only want to mention that they show that a return to
praxis today won’t re-politicize art, as the practice is not that what it was in Ancient
Greece, but is – already from the 19th century onwards – conceived as an expression
of individual human will and creative forces; see also: Ana Vujanović, “What do we
actually do when … make art”, Maska 127–130 & Amfiteatar 2 (2010)
5 E.g. Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labour”, http://www.generation-online.
org/c/fcimmateriallabour3.htm (30 March 2011); “Le renouvellement du concept
de production et ses sémiotiques” (Chapter 1), http://www.howtodothingsbythe-
cept-de-production-et-ses-semiotiques/ (30 March 2011); Michael Hardt, Antonio
Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000); Virno, A Gram­
mar of the Multitude (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004).


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I believe that in today’s forms of life one has a direct perception of the fact
that the coupling of the terms public-private, as well as the coupling of
the terms collective-individual, can no longer stand up on their own, that
they are gasping for air, burning themselves out. This is just like what is
happening in the world of contemporary production, provided that produc-
tion – loaded as it is with ethos, culture, linguistic interaction – not give itself
over to econometric analysis, but rather be understood as a broad-based
experience of the world.6

In his text Immaterial Labour Lazzarato explains that the core of

contemporary capitalist production, a production that is based on
immaterial labour, is not the production of the commodity but the
production of cultural-informational content of this commodity. There-
fore, the central questions of economy or, in a wider sense, of produc-
tion are questions concerning the configuration of the social situation
by communication and collaboration, whose principal content is the
production of subjectivity. Especially in the progressive cultural-artis-
tic field such claims are often regarded as promising for claiming the
politicality of art, as they appear to suggest a simple equation: art is
political insofar as it belongs to the domain of immaterial work that
comprises politics. However, I want to argue against this easy equa-
tion, which, to me, is deeply problematic. Immaterial labour can only
be political at the expense of its implications in the post-Fordist market
of ideas. This configuration of the social is almost entirely capitalized,
thus simulating the political rather than opening up a new space for
political discussion.

Next to Hannah Arendt and the post-Operaists, the third important

perspective on the relationship between art and politics can be found
in Jacques Rancière’s considerations of politics and aesthetics.7 It is
widely known that Rancière’s understanding of politics as the distribu-
tion of the sensible (le partage du sensible) addresses issues of fram-
ing or reframing public space as a common space in which certain
bodies have a part and others do not, and in which certain images
and voices can be seen and heard and others cannot. Hence politics
as the distribution of the sensible is about a conflictual shaping of
the sphere of common sensorial experience or, to put it differently,
of the “common sensorium”, i.e. what is sensed as common for a

6 Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, p. 26.

7 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The distribution of the sensible (New
York: Continuum, 2004); and Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (Minneapolis,
London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).


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c­ ertain social community. Rancière’s concept of the politics of aesthet-
ics derives from this standpoint, without, however, referring to Walter
Benjamin’s well-known observation on the aestheticization of politics
and the politicization of art. For Rancière, aesthetics is at the very core
of politics as a (re)distribution of the sensible. Likewise art always has
a political dimension, since “[a]rtistic practices are ‘ways of doing and
making’ that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and
making as well as in the relationships they maintain to modes of being
and forms of visibility.”8
However, this does not mean that art is politics, but it certainly
means that starting from this point we could and should differentiate
in concrete cases if its politicality is carried out as police or politics,
namely as a contribution to the existing distribution of the sensible
(policy / police), or as a critical intervention into it (politics).

Thus we have arrived at the degree zero of thinking the issue of art-
and-politics and its attractiveness to contemporary critical thought.
Although the viewpoints briefly introduced above are divergent, we
can conclude from them all that today the relation of art to politics as
something outside the field of art collapses more and more. Instead,
art becomes itself embedded within the political, and thus turns into
one of the training grounds or battlegrounds for the political practices
of Western societies.

Modalities of politicality in contemporary dance

In this section I will focus on how the political is practiced by and in

dance today. I would like to draw your attention to three dominant
modalities, which could be seen both as the perspectives of interpretation
used by critics and theoreticians and the artistic strategies or tactics
employed by the artists themselves. In any case, I want to stress that
they rarely exist in pure forms or separated from each other. Because of
this, the grid I am going to develop cannot be used for the classification
of performances, but only to broaden and sharpen our assessment of
their politicality.

8 Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, p. 13.


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1. Political content and the concept of engaged performance

The first modality is based on the idea that dance as art is a specific type
of social discourse. As such it has the capacity to speak about social
subjects and critical issues such as inequality, intolerance, militarism,
misogyny, dictatorship, fascism, racism, etc. In this sense, the role of
the (political) performance is to raise public awareness and to function
as a critical commentary on a particular social problem. Accordingly,
the medium of performance is not deemed to be an important factor
of its politicality. Moreover, it is considered as a mere formal aspect
of the dance piece, which is neutral and in itself relieved from politi-
cal messages. Therefore, the medium is capable of conveying different
messages coming from the content of the performance.

This modality is not a new one. It has already existed since the early
decades of the 20th century in various performing arts practices and
works that considered the political primarily in terms of contents,
themes, or subjects. The conception might be found both in modern-
ism – including also some segments of the historical avant-garde and
neo-avant-garde in the ‘60s – and, on the other hand, in Socialist real-
ism, the political and workers’ theatre and dance.9 This inherently
divergent scope seems paradoxical, but is not. The crucial idea that
enables all these different practices to understand the political in this
way is that of the representational character of art together with its
exceptional status in society. Consequently, from the perspective of
this mode of politicality, dance could be divided into politically engaged
dance and l’art pour l’art dance. While engaged dance deals directly
with social-political issues, the latter conceives of the dance discipline
as an autonomous field of human creativity, individual expression,
and emancipation of the individual body, which was seen as free from
the social infra-structure and functionality.
In any case, a politically critical remark is that both categories are
bound to the idea of the privileged, transcendental status of dance as
art, which is from this outside position able to speak about society and
politics – or prefers not to do so. What both positions neglect is that

9 See an explicit confrontation of Brecht’s and Piscator’s political theatre with

Dadaist formal experiments around the question of politicality of performance in
Erwin Piscator, “The Proletarian Theatre: Its Fundamental Principles and its Tasks”
(1920), ed. Ludwig Hoffmann, Erwin Piscator: Political Theatre, 1920–1966, exhibi­
tion catalogue (London: Arts Council, 1971), pp. 41–44. In the field of dance of that
time, Kurt Jooss’ Tanztheater or Jean Weidt’s ‘red dancer’ poetic, for instance, might
be seen as paradigmatic for this modality.


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art is given its exceptional status only by virtue of social authority.
Therefore, art here takes its status for granted and in this way it limits
its political potential never contesting itself as a social practice. An
illustrative example of this modality and its shortcomings are numer-
ous contemporary dance works that speak critically about either the
structure of contemporary dance institution or relations between the
First World and the rest of the world, the EU and the rest of Europe,
while at the same time touring through the EU supported by the dance
However, this first modality of the political has some advantages
that are worth mentioning. I would remark that some historical forms
of dance, such as mime, pantomime, and choreo-drama, have been a
way of speaking critically or subversively about certain social issues
when these issues were forbidden or censored. For instance, first
choreo-dramas appeared in Rome in 1806–08 during Napoleon’s inva-
sion of Italy. They were created by Gaetano Gioia as short dance pieces
smuggled into the breaks between opera acts, which spoke about burn-
ing socio-political topics of the time. Also the popularity of pantomime
in France after the Revolution was directly conditioned by the rigor-
ous censorship of the theatre. In fact, pantomime was practiced and
became popular as a form of public criticism without the risk of openly
using political texts. So we can see that at times when it was forbidden
to speak about certain social issues, this modality of politicality was
useful because dance could express these issues in a language (or more
precisely, a ‘semiotic system’) that the police supposedly didn’t under-
stand, and hence dance could smuggle them into public discourse.

2. Politicality of the performance medium:

its materiality and discursive dispositifs

The second modality focuses on the medium of dance performance

itself, its materiality, form, and organization, when it comes to for-
mulating a certain politicality. This modality also has a long history,
but was articulated in contemporary terms mostly in the 1960s and
‘70s within the then newly emerging theoretical platform in the social
sciences and the humanities: (post-)structuralism. The foundational
concepts here are the concept of writing (écriture) and the critique of
logocentrism (Derrida, Barthes), the materiality of the signifier and
of the signifying practice (Barthes, Kristeva, Lacan), intertextuality
(Kristeva), discursive practice (Foucault), ideological interpellation
and interdiscourse (Althusser, Pêcheux), and the concept of expres-
sion (Deleuze, Guattari).


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Claiming that the medium of performance is political in itself implies
that the signifier can never be a neutral mediator or vehicle of any
meaning, content, or message pertaining to the performance. It indi-
cates that discourse is itself a social materiality, that on the one hand
intervenes into its content – the idealistic realm of the signified – by its
signifying practice, and that, on the other hand, in a Foucauldian tradi-
tion, shapes our bodies, behavior, and social relations.10 Therefore, the
medium of performance is not and cannot be politically neutral regard-
less of its contributions to arranging the public sphere on the level of
content. Moreover, the performance may not disclose any particular
political content and still maintain a political potency if its medium can
contest the legitimized production of signifiers, signifying orders, and
habitualised orders of perception and reception, or even introduce new
ones. It is an especially important modality for dance, since it reveals
that the very images of the body, its positions, shapes, movements,
and relations on stage could oppose and subvert the dominant ideo-
logical interpellations by offering critical alternatives to them.
To sum up, one can say that for this modality of politicality the
question of how is more important than what (is said). The ‘how’
comprises issues like: who is speaking / acting, in which context, from
which position, in which relation to the object, and how speech and
action are organized.

This framework provides us with a strong tool for thinking the politicality
of dance even in the cases traditionally seen as politically indifferent
or apolitical. Speaking historically, one can say that, for instance, the
(post-)minimal dance of the Judson Church Dance Company (Yvonne
Rainer, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, etc.) practiced an emancipatory
politics without saying a word on political themes.11 It was clearly
engaged in democratization, individual liberation, and emancipation
in the spirit of the ‘60s by the problematization of inherited images of
dance, body, and techniques, and by offering critical alternatives to
them, by introducing for example pedestrian bodies and movements
which were inclusive (‘democratic’) and non-virtuoso.
Today, we could approach the choreographies by Xavier Le Roy,
Jérôme Bel, and Nikolina Bujas Pristaš, Bojana Mladenović,
Juan Dominguez, Vera Mantero, Mette Ingvartsen, Eduard Gabia,

10 See a consistent analysis of the socio-political practice of the artistic signifiers in:
Slavoj Žižek, Mladen Dolar, Rastko Mo²nik, Danijel Levski, Jure Mikuž, “Umetnost,
družba/tekst” (“Art, Society/Text”), Problemi-Razprave 3–5 (1975).
11 See also in Ramsay Burt, “Dance, History, and Political Relevance”, Maska
82–83 (2003).


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Eszter Salamon, Ivo Dim²ev, and many others from this perspective.
According to André Lepecki, they all interrupt the flow of movement
with, for instance, still-acts or the discursive materiality of the body.12
This particular ‘betrayal’ is worth mentioning here as it challenges
the modern dance paradigm of movement, which obtains a political
dimension by the fact that it is the very paradigm of modernity and
modern subjectivity in the Western world. The question is whether
‘the interruption in or of movement’ as a critique of modernist sub-
jectivity makes (political) sense in a post-socialist Europe that was
excluded from the post-war Western modernism; and if so, which one?
This would require an extensive discussion which exceeds the scope
of this article. Instead, I can only briefly note here that, seen from this
angle, we could read the boom of contemporary dance in the East dur-
ing the 1990s and 2000s – again, regardless of content and theme of a
particular dance piece – as a post-socialist celebration of the individual
body and its (neo-)liberty which comes after the long period of training
in anonymous mass discipline and collectivism and whose political
proposition is neo-liberal individualism.

3. Politicality of modes of work / production

The third and last mode of the politicality of dance in its current terms
is the result of an intersection of post-Operaist theories and bio-politics
on the one hand and cultural-activist initiatives connected to digital
technologies, particularly the Internet, on the other. In these frame-
works the problematics of work become one of the crucial political
questions of contemporary Western societies. As they represent societ-
ies shaped by a growing domination of post-industrial economy and
immaterial labour, as already mentioned above, art, culture, and cre-
ative industries become central theoretical concerns, even though they
are (mis)recognized as the avant-garde or the places of “silent revolu-
tion” of society.13 Furthermore, from free software and open source
through Hacktivism to Copy Left and creative commons licenses,
digital and Internet cultures generate many new-leftist practices that
invite artists to pay political attention to the conditions, protocols, and
procedures of their working processes.

12 See André Lepecki, Exhausting Dance: Performance and the politics of movement
(London, New York: Routledge, 2006).
13 See Lazzarato’s own re-thinking in “Conversation with Maurizio Lazzarato”, TkH
17 & Le Journal des Laboratoires: “Exhausting Immaterial Labour in Performance”
(2010), pp. 12–17.


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Hence, in the contemporary performing arts – whose paradigm today is
dance with its new infrastructure – current reference points pertaining
to politicality comprise the questions of property and licensing, tech-
nology of authorship, principles of sharing, position of performance
in the exchange economy and market, production and distribution of
knowledge, organization of artistic collectives, mechanisms of decision
making, collaboration, and networking. These issues are not new at
all, but this new perspective on them allows us to see them precisely
as political questions and not only as questions purely related to the
production of a piece. Moreover, in those terms, modes of dance pro-
duction acquire an almost higher political priority than either content
or form. They are inevitably inscribed in the performance, articulating
the dance piece’s positioning in public and even re-reading the political
dimension of its content or form.
On the grounds of such an understanding of politicality, we could
for instance criticize the guru-system of the alternative neo-avant-garde
performance groups (such as Performance Group, Living Theatre,
etc.), whose organisation keeps the principles of leadership and hier-
archies while the content of their pieces speaks out against authori-
ties and is therefore considered to be revolutionary and liberating.
From this perspective, we could radicalize Virno’s thesis that many
of these once disobedient practices have easily found their place in a
post-Fordist type of company. We could see that they mainly replaced
obedience to official authorities with a kind of voluntary, internalized
obedience – which is exactly what post-Fordist management tries to
achieve today.
On the other hand, several recent dance works and projects – like
Everybody’s platform, Collect-if by Emil Hrvatin, Bojana Cvejić, et al.,
Steal this dance! by Lucky Plush production, Mette Ingvartsen’s The
making of the making of, or Tino Sehgal’s actions of selling his perfor-
mances – are driven by the critical consideration of the questions of
sharing methodologies, structures of collaboration, intellectual prop-
erty and value of dance, research methods, and negotiations with the
normal-and-normative cycles of production and consumption of dance
pieces and choreographies. However, when we speak about their polit-
icality in these terms we need to distinguish the individual economic
interests of those involved in the “immaterial civil war” in the field of
contemporary cultural production14 from the artistic concerns for inter-
ventions into the given working conditions and in the mechanisms by
which they produce subjectivity.

14 Matteo Pasquinelli, “Immaterial Civil War; Prototypes of Conflict within Cognitive

Capitalism”, 2006, (30 March 2011).


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Speaking from a macro-perspective, the contemporary international
dance scene mostly works according to the principles of the tertiary
sector of neo-liberal capitalism, and therefore functions as a training
ground of post-industrial economy. This has recently been discussed
elsewhere.15 Therefore I only sum up the discussion by emphasizing
that the celebration of the new modes of production by dance prac-
titioners including nomadism, flexibility, multi-tasking personalities,
collaboration, and endless networking is paradoxical. These modes
are responsible for turning artists’ lives into an increasingly precarious
existence. Perhaps even more importantly from the perspective I am
developing here, the celebration of these modes makes them politically
opportunistic. While believing in the progressiveness of their modes
of work, dance practitioners in fact become complicit with neo-liberal
ideology, whose investment is precisely in post-industrial capitalist
production that merely simulates public discussions.

I find this polemical comment adequate for closing my methodological

framing of the topic and for opening up a space for further elabora-
tions. The comment indicates that when one deals with the politicality
of art, one must consider precisely its relationships to a given social
context, comprising the ruling polices, dominant public discourses and
their agencies, and current discussions. Without these specifications,
political labels such as leftist, rightist, communist, capitalist, demo-
cratic, nationalist, liberal, etc. are of reduced significance. This seems
particularly important for the issue of the politicality of performing
arts, which I find both full of potential and at the same time elusive,
since performance and politics are ambiguously close to each other in
sharing the same actuality and self-exhaustion in public.

15 See Mårten Spångberg, “Overwhelming, The Doing of Research”, in The Adven­

ture (Vienna: ImpulsTanz, 2006): pp.  33–47; Bojana Cvejić, “Collectivity? You
Mean Collaboration?”, 2005, (30
March 2011); Bojana Kunst, “Prognosis on Collaboration”, Marko Kostanić, “Art
and Labour”, TkH 17 & Le Journal des Laboratoires: pp. 20–30, pp. 36–40.


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Gabriele Klein

The (Micro-)Politics of Social Choreography

Aesthetic and Political Strategies of Protest
and Participation

The cover of the December 2011 issue of the US magazine Time1 fea-
tured a face veiled by a golden cloth. Underneath the title: The Protester.
The magazine had declared this persona, the anonymous protester, to
be their personality of the year. In doing so, Time magazine wished
to honor those, who have committed themselves to the protest move-
ments and claimed the streets as a new site of a democratic culture of
participation: from the protests taking place in the Arabic world, to the
demonstrations against the budget cutbacks of European governments,
against nuclear energy, right up to the Occupy Movement in New York.
“There is this contagion of protest”, says Times’ editor-in-chief Richard
Stengel. “These people who risked their lives … I think it is changing
the world for the better.”2
In these protest movements a new globalized political culture of par-
ticipation is emerging and operating on a local level in urban spaces.
The protesters are demanding a more democratic culture or – in the
already established democracies, which I will concentrate on in this
text  – new forms of participation and involvement3 that go beyond
the processes of authorization and legitimization already inherent to
representative democracy.
Taking place almost parallel to the emergence of these new public
manifestations of a political culture of participation, performers and
choreographers, but also established institutions of culture and educa-
tion, as well as local politicians have (again) been developing a grow-
ing interest in participatory performance and choreographic projects in
the public sphere since the 1990’s. Artistic distrust of the established
institutions of art, such as museums, operas or theaters, has drawn

1 “The Protester,” Time Magazine, 178 (25) (2011).

2 Richard Stengel in an interview by Today on December 14, 2011, compare: http://
magazine-reveals-its-person-year/#.TwXarDhxExC, accessed on January 6, 2011.
3 The German language differentiates between “Teilnahme” and “Teilhabe”, both
of which are commonly translated as “participation” in English; strictly speaking
“Teilnahme” is “taking part” and “Teilhabe” is “having part”. In the following text,
we will resort to using the words “participation” or “taking part” for “Teilnahme”
and “involvement” for “Teilhabe”.


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these projects to the public sphere and here in particular to the “non-
places”4, such as train stations or airports, the now theatricalized urban
spaces of consumer culture, where these projects transform pedestri-
ans into audience. Or these projects take place in marginalized urban
areas or municipal institutions, where artists, in most cases, work with
the local population or the specific clientele of that institution, which
has commissioned the project from them.
This text seeks to demonstrate the interrelationship of these two
movements in art and politics existing parallel to each other in time,
but otherwise seemingly independent from one another. The main
questions that I will look at here are:
How is the term participation defined in these different social fields,
the realm of art and that of politics? How can the relationship between
these new forms of political participation as expressed in civil pro-
test and an aesthetic understanding of participation be described? And
finally, why are these new forms of political and artistic participation
taking place now, after the 1960’s and 1970’s?
I will attempt to answer these questions from a social-critical per-
spective against the backdrop of the idea of social choreography. My
two main observations thereby are: firstly, that, in a neo-liberal, post-
Fordian society, the discourse surrounding participation is taking place
against the backdrop of the neo-liberal principle of the Care for the Self5
and a post-Fordian regime of creativity6. If we take into consideration
that in today’s Liquid Modernity7 the boundaries between the social
fields have become permeable and that the principles defining the
field of art have become the guiding principles of “new capitalism”8,
we must secondly ask ourselves how art as a space of critical reflec-
tion, which always also draws its energy from its difference to other
areas of society, must be redefined in light of the dissolution of social
Before going into more detail, I will first outline how the term par-
ticipation is understood in the context of civil protest movements, then
give a short summary of forms of participation found in contemporary

4 Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 2

engl. edition (London: Verso, 2008).
5 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality – Vol. 3 – The Care for the Self (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
6 Compare Andreas Reckwitz, Die Erfindung der Kreativität (The Invention of
Creativity) (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2012).
7 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008).
8 Luc Boltanski & Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso,


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choreographic projects and thirdly, try to position these political and
aesthetic forms of participation in the wider context of social and politi-
cal theory.

Political Participation and Civil Protest

Stuttgart 21, the protest against the democratically legitimized con-

struction of a new train station in the German city of Stuttgart, the
ongoing protests against the storage of nuclear waste, the bourgeois
resistance against the planned liberalization of the school system in
Hamburg, the protests of the Occupy Movement in Frankfurt and in
many other cities  – these are just a few examples from the protest
culture of the year 2011 in Germany. They are all cases of civil protest
putting up resistance against municipal, national or international poli-
tics via local initiatives and referendums. The initiators of these protest
movements come  – unlike in the protest movements of the 1970’s,
such as the women’s lib, gay rights or the peace movements – from
a wide range of social backgrounds: not only are younger and largely
left-wing oriented people or marginalized social groups joining in, but
also older and more conservative citizens.
In the first new historical wave after the 1970’s, these protest cul-
tures are practicing an extra-parliamentary form of political participa-
tion: not involvement9 as constitutionally guaranteed in the framework
of representative democracy, where participation is concentrated on
conventional i.e. legally codified, guaranteed and regulated forms of
participation and finds its expression in the election of representatives.
Instead – in both right-wing, as well as left-wing protest movements –
focus has shifted to a form of participation, which could be defined
as taking part10, i.e. as an unconventional form of participation de
facto practiced by citizens beyond the institutionalized forms of rep-
resentative democracy. This is an understanding of participation by
citizens in democratic societies that undermines the regulations and
movement ordinances dictated by representative democracy, such as
e.g. the approval procedure for civic participation, which as in the
case of Stuttgart 21 lasts about 15 years, and establishes new forms of
participatory democracy. For emancipative and legitimatizing reasons,
as well as in that they increase effectiveness, these developments are
marked as desirable in the framework of civil society, inasmuch as that
they are regarded as a democratic evolution of representative democ-

9 “Teilhabe”: see footnote 3.

10 “Teilnahme”: see footnote 3.


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racy that seeks to maximize the political involvement of as many as
possible in as many areas as possible. At the same time, they under-
mine the basis of the legitimization of institutionalized democracy and
question the embedded democratic procedures and decision-making
processes as steered by the elected representatives.
However, political participation today is not only taking place against
the backdrop of a changing political, social, economic and media-
driven world, which can be characterized by catchwords such as: the
end of the welfare state, post-Fordian models of production, consumer
culture, theatricalized cities, mediatized socialities. It is also taking
place in a different way than in the 1970’s. At that time, civil protest
was fundamentally about the political implementation of constitution-
ally guaranteed human rights such as the equality between the sexes,
abolition of racial segregation, recognition of homosexual partnerships,
resistance against war and violence. These were protests in which the
art scene also decisively participated e.g. through the founding of the
Art Worker’s Coalition by US-American artists in 1969: an organization,
which called for a reform of museum politics and protested against the
discrimination of women, homosexuals and people of color in the art
world. The current protest movements are, however, about opposition
to decisions made by political parties, against tedious nontranspar-
ent processes of authorization, the corruption of politicians and top
business managers and against lobby politics. This political resistance
against politics itself  – also understood in terms of Pierre Rosanval-
lon as a form of co-existence and a form of collective action11 – today
takes place against the backdrop of a neo-liberal society of the Care for
the Self, a post-Fordian regime of creativity and a politics of the image
hustled along by digitalization and medialization.

Social Movements as Social Choreographies

These new forms of political participation formulate themselves in the

public sphere. They are in most cases performed fully aware of the
ambivalence, power and vulnerability of the body: in demonstrations
or the occupation of buildings, street crossings or train tracks, in chain-
ing themselves to buildings, suspending themselves from bridges or
in sit-ins, or for example in the reckless hanging of protest banners.

11 Pierre Rosanvallon, “Für eine Begriffs- und Problemgeschichte des Politischen

(On a history of the Definitions and Problems Surrounding the Political)”, Mittelweg
36, Zeitschrift des Hamburger Instituts für Sozialforschung 6 (20) (2011): pp. 43–66.
Translator’s translation.


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In these social movements the word movement – the corporeal activ-
ity – should be taken literally. A fact, which has hitherto not been paid
much attention to in the theories of social movements, but which is of
special interest from the perspective of a critical theory of modernity
that locates the cultural patterns of society above all in the physical
practices of the everyday, their micropolitics. For here the body is not
only the medium of protest, inasmuch as that it is the carrier of the
signs and symbols of protest. In fact, it is only in the choreographic
organization of the body that the protest itself becomes performative,
in how the bodies occupy public spaces, camping, stripping, freezing.
The dis-placement (the circumvention of the topographical order), the
de-positioning12 (the abandonment of one’s own position) of the bod-
ies lying on the streets, letting themselves be chained to each other
and carried away, demonstrates the vulnerability of the private and
intimate body and is thus in itself a protest against the public sphere
and its choreographic order as a realm of power. At the same time,
these physical protests take into account an aesthetic form of pro-
test by creatively and theatrically staging their happenings and orga-
nizing them with humor and irony. These corporeal forms of protest
complicate the differentiation between the aesthetic and the political,
because they are simultaneously performances of the political and of
the politics of media images. In their creative practice, political acting
does not exclusively take place as resistance to, but also as part of the
post-Fordian regime of creativity.
Demonstrations, sit-ins, tent cities or flash mobs are social chore-
ographies, which can in turn change, disrupt and undermine the cho-
reographic order of the public sphere. They can come into conflict
with the inscribed macro-structures of the panoptic urban space, of
urban development and city planning, transportation infrastructure,
social segregation, spatial marginalization and pauperization of city
districts, which are likewise choreographed spaces. As choreogra-
phies, which produce ephemeral systems of order, the protest move-
ments demonstrate a contemporary understanding of choreography
that seeks to define choreography not as a predetermined system, but
as a collaboratively generated process in which all participants take
part. Choreographed protest can be read as real-time-composition, as
a rule-governed improvisation, created performatively as a form of
choreographic order in the moment of performance. Due to the unpre-
dictability of political protest developing as real-time-composition, the
situational decisions made by the participants and their ability to act

12 Compare: Sandra Noeth, unpublished manuscript of the opening speech for

SCORES NO4 “Under Protest”, Tanzquartier Wien, December 2011.


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creatively under time pressure in a politically charged situation, while
simultaneously taking into account the movements of the others and
interacting with them, all become especially significant.
Parallel to the manifestations of these political forms of a new culture
of participation, choreographers are developing participation projects,
which also bring together the social and the aesthetic in unusual ways.
These are often projects, which simultaneously separate choreography
from dance and abandon the customary sites of theater to conquer
public spaces. “Choreography is not necessarily bound to dance, nor
is dance bound to choreography. Choreography is about ‘organizing
bodies in space, or organizing bodies with other bodies, or a body with
other bodies in an environment that is organized’”13, writes William
Both the choreographed forms of a political culture of participation,
as well as these contemporary choreographies are – and this is what
I wish to point out here – social choreographies. In my understand-
ing the concept of social choreography means creating a connection
between the social and the aesthetic by attributing to the aesthetic
a fundamental role in the description of the political and the social.
Choreography is here understood as a performative structuring of body
practices in time and space, as an analytical category that allows reflec-
tion of the social, as well as exposing the relationships between the
aesthetic and the political, both in art and politics. Social choreogra-
phy, as defined by Andrew Hewitt14, is a performative concept that
defines choreography neither as a purely aesthetic phenomenon, nor
as a metaphor or representation of the social, as has been the case in
the context of the sociological discussion on liquid modernity over the
last few years. Instead, social choreography is understood as a real-
time-composition that is equally distinguishable as an aesthetic, as well
as a social practice.
Choreographies do not exist separate from social norms and structures,
but instead perform them. The concept of social choreography therefore
does not primarily explore the social aspect of choreography in the
sense of a social aspect of aesthetics. Instead social choreography
broaches the issue of the aesthetics of the social as the organization of
bodies in time and space.
Connected to the concept of social choreography is the idea of a cen-
trality of the aesthetic in social figurations and the social and political

13 William Forsythe in: Stephanie Rosenthal, ed., Move: Choreographing you. Art
and dance since the 1960s (London: Hayward Publishing, 2010), p. 105.
14 Compare Andrew Hewitt, Social Choreography. Ideology as Performance in Dance
and Everyday Movement (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2005).


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in aesthetic practices. Thus the concept of social choreography posi-
tions itself in opposition to the notion that choreography is a concept
limited to dance and also to the idea that the social in choreography
concentrates itself in contexts and frames and is not a genuine compo-
nent of the aesthetic order of choreography itself.
Accordingly, the concept of social choreography has two perspec-
tives: from the perspective of dance studies, it investigates the perfor-
mativity of the social in choreography and from a sociological point
of view, it examines how the political and the social is inscribed and
can be generated in performative practices. From this perspective, the
analysis of political movements on the one hand and choreographic
participation projects on the other are two sides of one coin, and it is
their structural similarity and contemporary parallelism that I wish to
elucidate here via the term participation.

Forms of Participation in Artistic Projects

In contemporary choreographic projects, participation manifests itself

not so much against the backdrop of specific cultural-political beliefs –
as was the case on the 1970’s – but rather against the backdrop of wider
conceptual, artistic and theoretical reflections on the concept of cho-
reography itself: how choreography can be created as an arrangement
of bodies in time and space, not as rules, as law, as representation but
as structure, produced performatively in a practice of rule-finding. In
contemporary choreography three aesthetic concepts of participation
can thus be derived from these observations.

1. Implicit Forms of Participation

In the case of implicit forms, participation takes place via a concep-

tual, but not active involvement of the audience. In fact, this type of
work is designed in such a way that the artists have inscribed the
interaction with the audience into the concept so that the audience
can sense and experience this in the performance itself.15 This form of
participation was developed further in particular after World War II in
interdisciplinary artistic collaborations e.g. by Robert Rauschenberg,
John Cage and Merce Cunningham at the Black Mountain College in

15 Compare Katharina Rost, Stephanie Schwarz & Rainer Simon, “Turning In/
Out. Auditory participation in contemporary music and theatre performances,”
Performance Research 16 (3) (2011): pp. 67–75.


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the 1950’s. In 1952, Cage composed 4’ 33’’– a piece only consisting
of the sounds within the concert hall. That same year Rauschenberg
painted his White Paintings, of which an integral part is the shadows
of the visitors. These pieces do not exist without an audience; it is only
through and with an audience that they obtain meaning. A contempo-
rary choreographic example of this form of participation is the piece
Le Sacre du Printemps by Xavier Le Roy (2007), in which he addresses
the audience as his orchestra, while Xavier Le Roy takes on the role
of the conductor. This piece integrates the audience conceptually and
can only be understood in the interactive relationship between art-
ist and audience. For months, Le Roy studied a video of Sir Simon
Rattle rehearsing Le Sacre du Printemps with the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra and then developed his choreography out of the conductor’s
movements. Participation here takes place via imagination, memory,
anticipation, whereby the audience functions as an indicator for the
dynamics that Le Roy develops during the performance.

2. Participation as Taking Part16

In the case of participation as taking part, the audience is active, but

moves beyond the mere framework of a conceptual pre-scription.
Instead the audience takes an active role in shaping the choreographic
structure in the framework of the material offered. Current examples
for participation as taking part are the choreographic objects17, which
William Forsythe and Dana Caspersen have developed over the last
two decades. One of these is the White Bouncy Castle (1997), originally
commissioned by Artangel, London. “The White Bouncy Castles trans-
fers the various states of physical-spatial organization, which chore-
ography is concerned with, to a state of autonomy, which requires no
further channeling influence”, says Forsythe.18
It is a project that questions the concept of choreography, the sub-
stance of art and the artistic space itself in and through the participa-
tion of all persons involved. Here participation manifests itself in how
the participants themselves create and personally design the choreog-
raphy. Through their actions in the 30 x 11 meter bouncy castle, they
produce a choreographic order of the ephemeral, which is unique in

16 Compare footnote 3.
17 Compare: William Forsythe:,
accessed on January 7, 2012.
18 William Forsythe:–08/huepfen-deichtorhallen,
accessed on December 17, 2011.


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every one of its moments and cannot be repeated. It is the production
of a community, which is open, unpresuming in its identity and con-
tinuously redefining its we.
In a more recent project entitled Knotunkot (2011), the visitors par-
ticipate in a social choreography structured in two distinct and simul-
taneous parts. In one corner of the space, visitors collectively assemble
and disassemble a large object. It is a metaphor for society as a figura-
tion, whose density and strengths are the results of the actions of both
the individuals and their interactions. In the other corner, the visitors
speak with each other about how the society should be structured and
which beliefs, assumptions, values and norms form the basis of our

3. Participation as Involvement

“The Art of Participation consists in creating a scenario in which a

number of people actually want to participate in”19, this is how
Geheimagentur, a Hamburg based performance group, characterizes
the underlying principle of participation projects. Here participation
is based on the active involvement of the audience in the piece, in the
sense that the audience moves within a framework provided by the
artist. In contrast to methods that only simply present such processes,
these projects also aim, as they themselves formulate it, at working
both for a non-exclusive audience as well as detaching the viewer from
his or her passive consumer position in favor of taking up an active and
co-producing role in the process.
Due to current funding politics, such participation projects are numer-
ous. I would like to discuss one current example: Deufert/ ­Plischke’s
most recent project Emergence Room (2010, Vienna). Deufert/ ­Plischke,
Berlin based artistwins have been experimenting over the last years
with formats in which they encourage the audience to take part in
their artistic processes. Their basic assumption is that artistic processes
cannot be represented.
Accordingly, the processes, which we jointly or individually experi-
ence in the creation of a work of art, are often not comprehensible from
the outside. The only possible way to thus communicate artistic work-
ing processes is, so Deufert/Plischke, to integrate the outside into the
process. In their view, partaking in a work of art thus replaces the mere
representation of participation. Their interest, as they formulate it, lies

19 Geheimagentur, “The Art of Being Many,” Performance Research 16 (3) (2011):

pp. 36–44.


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not in performatively staging participation, as has been a widespread
tendency in theater over the last few years, but in allowing others to
partake in the creative process itself.
In their project Emergence Room, they therefore built a choreo-
graphed room in a museum in Vienna20. The room contains a specific
arrangement of objects, texts, audio material, images, etc. that all raise
certain issues. They lead the visitor/participant into the empty space
and give them materials such as fabrics, paper, balls of yarn and invite
them to do something with them, such as simple games with wool,
etc. After a few days, dense proliferations of wool and various topog-
raphies developed, which weren’t originally planned, simply emerged
and continued to grow in and through the actions of the visitors. This
social choreography created a choreographed space, a self-material-
izing movement notation that found its manifestation in the balls of
yarn, knots and notes.
In practice however, the artistic-theoretical and political aspirations
of such projects can only be reconciled with great difficulty. The proj-
ect is instead faced with a problem that is structurally inherent in
most participatory art projects, namely the yawning chasm between
the theoretical promise of and political aspiration towards participa-
tion and the actual aesthetic practice of art. This conflict between the
promise of community and the betrayal of art isn’t new. And so, the
still unresolved problem, which the participation project of Deufert/
Plischke shares with other community projects, is a paradox: on the
one hand, it implies an equality of artists and non-artists, and on the
other, leaves the invention of rules, the selection of the material, etc.
in the hands of the artists. And ultimately, it’s moreover a project in
which the artistic quality of what is produced by the visitors/ con-
tributors and the aesthetic reflection of that which is produced only
play a minor role in the project. The effect has been that, in light of
the participatory art projects of the 1970’s, these projects have been
disqualified as mere social-pedagogical activities and the pedagogical
idealism that they contain has been discriminated against.

20 In Berlin, “Emergence Room” took place in the summer of 2011 on the grounds
of the Uferstudios in a circle of construction trailers surrounded by screens so that
it was impossible to look in from outside.


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The Political and Sociological Context

The participation projects of today must be read against a different

artistic and social background than those the 1970’s. Although, the
goal of activating the audience still applies as in the tradition of the par-
ticipation projects of the 1960s and 1970’s, in performance art, fluxus
and happenings. Some contemporary projects have even retained the
emancipatory moment of performance. However, these objectives
have begun to waiver under the influence of a neo-liberal concept
of Care for the Self and the context of a politics that has elevated the
post-Fordian principle of creativity to the guideline of society after the
end of the welfare state. In the wake of a dismantling of social policy,
cultural policy has been awarded the role of replacing it. This shift
has produced new fundamental principles in cultural policy such as
the concept of children as creative investigators and explorers. How
thus should choreographic projects of participation be contextualized
against this backdrop of this dispositive of creativity in a new contem-
porary society?

1. The Political Context

Open-ended processes, mutual giving and taking, the finite nature of

the process, the externalization of the personal and the dispute of the
mutual are all typical for political movements of participation and also
characteristics, which many participatory art projects share conceptu-
It is no coincidence that a political philosophy of community is also
experiencing a revival parallel to the manifestations of new political
protest movements and the revival of participatory art projects. Philo-
sophical or rather sociological theories have, on the one hand, played
a decisive role in the shift today towards post-conceptual, socially and
politically active art, even where it already existed in similar art dis-
courses and practices that anticipated contemporary theory and prac-
tice. On the other hand, these theoretical approaches to community
reflect the potential of new forms of socialization that have become
possible in the course of a neo-liberal and post-Fordian reorganization
of the social and the dissolution of the boundaries of social fields.
Theories of community by Nancy, Agamben, Negri and Hardt, Virno
or Esposito here provide the theoretical basis. Giorgio Agamben21 speaks

21 Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota

Press, 1993).


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of a forthcoming community of random singularities beyond any form
of legally mediated relationships. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt22
re-formulate, as does Paolo Virno23, the multitude as a “multitude of
singular differences”, for which they choose the politically difficult
metaphor of the swarm. In contrast to Agamben, who he considers to
be too a-historical, and Hardt/ Negri, whom he accuses of a subjective-
euphoric approach, Roberto Esposito24 articulates a concept of com-
munity not based on a concept of identity or semantics of the individ-
ual. His goal is to solve the tension contained in community between
“identity as negation of what we have in common with the other and
community as the negation of the individual, which distinguishes us
from the other” with the terms “communitas” and “immunitas”25. He
does not wish to ascribe communitas to a trait or affiliation, but to a
shared obligation, duty or commitment. And it is, and herein he agrees
with Nancy, neither to be understood as an a priori substance, as a
being, state or subject or a united body or rather physical unit, nor
as a relationship constituted through mutual acknowledgement. Com-
munity, so Esposito, is instead composed of the mutual relationship of
giving and taking. Its counterpart, the immunitas, is the opposite: its
striving to defend the individual interrupts the cycle of mutual giving
and taking that is constitutive for the communitas. A community can
only escape from this dialectic, if it continuously questions itself with
regard to its own openness, finiteness, and foreignness. For Nancy, the
principle of every community is therefore its incompleteness (inach­
èvement), its partitioning (partage) and the production of unpredict-
able processes contrary to community as a unity based on the image
of the body (désœvrement).
The controversy surrounding the boundaries and the dubious iden-
tity of the we and the contestation of the common ground are thus
the fundamental preconditions of community. They become apoliti-
cal, when they take the question of community for granted. From this
perspective, community can only be seen as political, when it defines

22 Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire (Harvard: Harvard Univ. Press, 2001).
23 Paolo Virno, Multitude Between Innovation and Negation (Semiotext(e) Foreign
Agents) (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotexte, 2007).
24 Roberto Esposito, Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community (Cultural
Memory in the Present) (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2009).
25 Robin Celikates, “Communitas-Immunitas-Bios. Roberto Espositos Politik der
Gemeinschaft” (Communitas-Immunitas-Bios. Roberto Esposito’s Politics of Com-
munity) in: Janine Böckelmann & Claas Morgenroth, eds., Politik der Gemeinschaft:
Zur Konstitution des Politischen in der Gegenwart (Politics of Community: On the
constitution of the Political in the present) (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2008), pp. 49–68,
here: 51. Translator’s translation.


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itself as a community without a foundation in something shared prior
to its establishment (for example shared ancestry or shared tradition).
But this also means that every politics of the community can always
also be a politics versus community i.e. against the illusion of a to-
be-constructed or yet to-be-attained identity. The voicing of a we is
therefore also always a disputable statement, not an observation of
collective identity. It is in this sense that Chantal Mouffe also argues
the case for a revival of the political. Against the post-political vision
of consent and appeasement, which she considers the more serious
political risk, she advocates a politics of difference, inasmuch as that it
is precisely the confrontation as such from which democratic politics
draws its energy.26
But how is participation in this sense of collaborative action possible
in a globalized, unbound, denationalized, neo-liberal society?

2. The Sociological Context

In the context of a globalized, post-Fordian, denationalized, neo-liberal

society that has dissolved its boundaries, participation projects are
subject to new demands. For as a result of the dismantling of the wel-
fare state in favor of a cultural society that has abolished all concepts
of class and left behind the so-called creative class as the only fraction
still standing, art has been assigned new responsibilities. Art no longer
merely legitimizes itself from within, attaining it (social-) critical poten-
tial from precisely this fact. On the contrary, Adorno’s critical dictum:
“Insofar as a social function can be predicated for artworks, it is their
functionlessness”27, must itself be called into question in conjunction
with the dislimitation and disintegration of the social. In a neo-liberal
society, art’s claim towards legitimacy is increasingly derived from the
dictum that the artist, as member of the creative class, can be made
socially responsible in the context of the concept of civil society.
On the other hand, artistic projects are also progressively being asked
to compensate for cutbacks in other areas of social policy and this is
increasingly one of the reasons that such projects are being funded at
all. They are thus being assigned even more of those functions that
have traditionally been the job of social work and political education:
social integration and participation.

26 Chantal Mouffe: On the Political (Abingdon, New York: Routledge, 2005).

27 Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (London/ New York: Continuum Inter
Publishing, 2004): p. 297.


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Participation projects today are therefore subject to an ambivalence,
which forces them to render a contribution to cultural education, while
being aware that this is only possible at the price of the dissolution
of the boundaries of art itself. In the case of the most prominent fig-
ure of the art-politics-participation-debate in Germany, in the oeuvre
of Joseph Beuys, artistic work referred to “shaping everything in the
world. Not only artistic design, but also social design … as well as other
questions of design and education”28. Accordingly, to him everything
was art: his enigmatic objects, as well as his candidacy for the Green
Party, his performances, as well as the establishment of the “Inde-
pendent International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary
Research” in 1974. And contemporary choreography since the 1990’s
has also left no doubt as to its claims to artistic status: everything can
be artistic practice – from a social project to a bouncy castle, a party,
a lecture, an interview or a lecture performance.
However, set against the backdrop of a neo-liberal society, aesthetic
strategies of participation are confronted with new questions: how can
artistic practice retain its critical potential as the boundaries of art dis-
solve? And how can it do so without catering to neo-liberal demands?
These questions impose themselves on us when we take into consider-
ation that with the end of the welfare state in connection with problems
in urban development, failed efforts at integration and deficiencies in
education, more and more of art – and in a liquid modernity also more
and more of dance – is being called on to find solutions for the damage
done to the social. Is it not precisely those politically encouraged and
financially supported participation projects, which today run the risk
of becoming the willing accomplices of the neo-liberal straitjacket in
the sense of: create your own space, your own product and find your
own audience?
My argument is that the parallels to the political participation move-
ments lie in this neo-liberal context. These protest movements are
equally ambivalent in their relationship to neo-liberal society and gov-
ernmental politics: on the one hand, they are euphorically celebrated
as a more direct form of democratic participation, on the other hand,
there are also forms of protest that can also be interpreted as a neo-
liberal attitude of individualized care for the self, as an effect of gov-
ernmental politics. In doing so, they occasionally merely represent the
individual interests of specific hegemonic groups: as in the case of
the bourgeois protest against the abolishment of the Gymnasium in
Hamburg, in which parents from well-to-do families joined forces to

28 Conversation between J. Beuys, B. Blume and H.G. Pranger, 15.11.1975, Rhein­

ische Bienenzeitung 12 (1975): pp. 373–377.


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represent their special interests and with the help of the tools of par-
ticipatory democracy brought about the end of an ambitious school
project in Hamburg.
From this perspective, participation in artistic productions and politi-
cal participation cannot be seen as two separate discourses and social
fields, the field of the art and the political field, as auto-poetic systems
with their own rules, norms and values. In the words of philosopher
Jacques Rancière, they can be seen as two forms of the “division of the
sensual”. Accordingly, choreographic participation projects and cho-
reographic forms of protest are the interwoven strategies of a “politics
of the kinaesthetic” and “kinaesthetic policy”. Accordingly, political
participation should be less understood as an institutional strategy or
as a field subsidized by politics in contrast to art as a purely aesthetic
practice or an impulse for cultural education. Instead, the political
is here formulated normatively and focused on one aspect: political
activity, which is according to Rancière “something that removes a
body from its natural place or the place that is naturally assigned to
it, which makes visible what should not have been seen, and which
makes comprehensible as speech something that would normally be
considered noise”.29
Aesthetics should therefore not be described as art theory and the
aesthetic not just as a form of perception. Instead, we must examine
how the aesthetic is inscribed in political practices – and how these
practices with their norms, rules and habits, already act in guiding sen-
sual perception inasmuch as they provide social orientation, delineate
the social and political space and in doing so regulate social percep-
tion. And it is precisely the political dimension of the physical-sensual,
of movement perception, which constitutes the dimension of kinaes­
thetic politics30: political activity is understood as the sensual practice
of visualizing and transforming cultural and social codes, especially in
the public sphere – even in ways that contradict the “police order”, as
Rancière calls it.
Political and aesthetic intervention in the “police order” is an impor-
tant and indispensable step. These aesthetic forms of participation are,
in my sociological argument, political, when the aesthetic practice ran-
kles structures, norms, habits and conventions – not only calling them
into question, but also changing them. In other words: They are politi-
cal when they produce a critical difference to the “kinaesthetic reality

29 Maria Muhle’s foreword in: Jacques Rancière, Die Aufteilung des Sinnlichen
(Berlin: b_books Verlag, 2006), p. 9. Translator’s Translation.
30 André Lepecki, Exhausting Dance: performance and the politics of movement
(New York: Routledge, 2006).


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of the modern age”31. And finally they are political, when they exist not
just as functional networks, but also create a sense of community. Not
as an objective, but as a precondition of the practices themselves.
From this perspective, participation in artistic projects should not
(again) be dismissed as a mere trend. Rather it would be an important
and worthwhile task to write an alternative history of choreography
with a focus laid on participation projects; a history that inquires into
the conditions and possibilities of creating community in corporeal
figurations. In such a line of inquiry, choreography could also be more
clearly defined in its sociological dimension, by examining the order of
movement in its social und physical temporality and cultural spatiality
and in terms of the rhythm of taking part and involvement.

Translated from the German by Elena Polzer /

ehrliche arbeit – freelance office for culture.

31 Peter Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus: Zur Kritik der politischen Kinetik (Frankfurt am

Main: Suhrkamp, 1989), p. 25.


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Randy Martin

Mobilizing Dance
Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative

Politics today suffers a crisis of evaluation. Millions around the world

have taken to the streets to depose governments, but the tendencies of
those on the ground, the dispositions of those who assumed positions
of authority, the conditions of the institutions have not been so easy
to figure out. The political appears at once as a problem of too much
and too little. No aspect of human endeavor or expression is beyond
deliberate contestation and yet each spirited intervention can leave the
sense that not enough was done. Movement everywhere, crescendos
of volatility, vertiginous shifts in direction leave an impression of being
out of time or adrift in space. The ensuing disequilibrium has proven
disorienting to thought and made it difficult to discern direction amidst
a thicket of practices moving this way and that.
But surely, moving through disequilibrium, divining ways through
spaces made for infinite possibility is what dance knows best. Dance,
at least in its Western modernist formulation, is conventionally con-
sidered as movement for itself.1 Yet such hard won autonomy has not
always secured it a place in the world. Dancers too struggle to make
a living; presentation venues strain against diminished support; audi-
ences contend with escalating ticket prices. For dance to move the
political beyond arrested development, its knowledge of how bodies
are assembled, of how space and time are configured, of how intercon-
nections are valued must be made legible beyond the ends of choreo-
graphic endeavor. For a politics that is abundant and undervalued, the
question becomes, how can dance be mobilized to think through the
present?2 No doubt the present itself is not one thing but many. Indeed
politics is the pathway forged through possibility, the realization of

1 Of course this tension between dance’s particularity and its universalism runs
through the historical and ethnological impulses that had constituted the conventional
approaches to the study of dance until dance studies undertook a more philosophical
and theoretical turn. See, for example, John Martin, The Modern Dance (Brooklyn,
Dance Horizons 1965 [1933]); Judith Lynne Hanna, To Dance Is Human: A Theory
of Non-verbal Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); and for
the text of the break in dance studies, Susan Leigh Foster, Reading Dancing: Bodies
and Subjects in Contemporary American Dancing (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1986).
2 This question has informed my previous work on dance. See, Randy Martin,
Performance as Political Act: The Embodied Self (South Hadley, MA: Bergin and


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purpose in a contentious field of movement. What moves us beyond
existing conditions and constraints usually consists of finding a way
between obdurate oppositions that threaten to subsume the imagina-
tion of generative socialities.
This dilemma pertains to the very language most familiar to thinking
political mobilization. On the one hand stands the fluid, distributed,
horizontal, decentralized figure of the network. On the other sits the
structured, enclosed, vertical and centering institution known as orga-
nization.3 It can be observed that the financial crisis which has proven
so disruptive to economy and disorienting to politics has positioned
network and organization in a paradoxical light. Taking the case of
the United States (which claimed authorship but not ownership of
what quickly became a global matter), the proximate political response
was staged as a kind of populist rage identified with the insurgent
Tea Party which enlisted social media, suspected establishment orga-
nization, disbelieved government institutions, invoked network sov-
ereignty – all to channel its energies quite instrumentally into a party
organization that would elect state representatives. If the Tea Party
targeted government in reaction to the appropriation of public funds
for private corporations, those very banks and investment houses, in
the face of a lapse of organization effectively distributed their risks
of doing business through a network of homeowners who suffered
foreclosure, school children who absorbed fewer teachers and greater
accountability, and public workers whose pension plans were targeted
for triage. Certainly this transposition of network and organization has
complicated any sense of how to restore order through regulation, of
how to recognize the tendency of political mobilizations, and of how
to imagine a future under present conditions.4

Garvey, 1998; and Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1998).
3 For a recent effort to examine the intersections between logics of networks and
organizations see Ned Rossiter, Organized Networks: Media theory, Creative labour,
New institutions (Rotterdam: NAi Press, 2006).
4 The literature on the financial crisis itself looks to be a genre out of control with
new titles appearing daily. Yet the tropes of missed regulatory opportunity, of excess
by a few outliers, or insufficient cash reserves often miss the normalization of dis-
equilibration that continues after the fall. For some representative accounts see, Paul
Mason, Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed (London: Verso, 2010) or Gillian Tett,
Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall Street Greed Corrupted
its Bold Dream and Created A Financial Catastrophe (New York, London, Toronto,
Sidney: Free Press, 2009) which contains a chapter entitled “Dancing Around the
Regulators,” a hint at the kind of suspect politics associated with dance.


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There is a common figure that twins these crises of the economic and
the political and that entangles the logics of network and organization.
It is that of the derivative. A derivative is an attribute of some value
that can be bundled together with like features that can be traded in
their own right.5 In financial terms, derivatives are used as insurance
policies to hedge against future transactions where interest rates, cur-
rency exchange rates, mortgage rates, can vary between the time a
contract is made and when it comes to term. In this respect derivatives
bring together things that are far apart and make the future actionable
in the present. The traffic in derivatives can move in all directions
while the bundle of goods to which they are tied stays put. The value of
those goods being insured is called the face or notional value, whereas
the derivatives comprise a kind of composite body that both particular-
izes certain risks and generalizes a condition of risk, which in financial
terms is a measure of potential gain beyond what would be expected.
These financial conditions have entered deeply into productive activ-
ity, not simply because companies like General Motors came to make
most of their profits financing loans on cars they manufactured but
also because industrial production in a global economy has come to
rely on derivative contracts to commensurate all manner of difference
in costs of labor, supplies, currency exchange and the like.
When taken as a broader social logic, and not just as activities that
take place within one sector or domain called the economy, these
dynamics of the derivative can be seen across all manner of human
activity in ways that engender mutual indebtedness, interdependen-
cies across different times and places, and a swelling socialization of
what people take to be and expect from life, history, and their future.
Rather than a moral compromise to be avoided, the social entailments
of indebtedness are the basis of political engagement.6 What we call
identity is certainly an attribute of self that gets bundled, valued and
circulates beyond the wholeness of an individual person. The under-
standing of social problems as risks to be managed by mathematical
models of outcomes applies to weather variations, military interven-

5 For accounts of derivatives beyond their technical financial aspect see, Dick Bryan
and Mike Rafferty, Capitalism With Derivatives: A Political Economy of Financial
Derivatives, Capital and Class (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Ben Lee and
Edward Lipuma, Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2006); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 2002).
6 For a conception of the political grounded in a nuanced understanding of mutual
indebtedness see, Richard Dienst, The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common
Good (New York: Verso, 2011).


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tions, student and employee performance, health care allocations.
Populations are cleaved between those who master these arts of risk
management and those who fail to do so, the at-risk.7 The consequence
of a world suffused with derivative logics is that it becomes a riskier
place than it once was. When all are acting based upon risks they
anticipate, the environment that they inhabit becomes all the more
volatile and the impossibility of forecasting outcomes when forecasts
collide and cancel one another enhances the likelihood of unlikely and
catastrophic events.
Contrary to the notion that finance is separate from the real world,
that it is ethereal, ephemeral, epiphenomenal, immaterial the omnipo-
tence of derivative logics that suffuse the flows and structures of our
activity compel a rethinking of where to turn in the face of crisis.
Across the ideological spectrum the moralizing calls to return the econ-
omy to fundamental values, to punish the excessive few and regulate
the normal course of affairs assumes that this chimera called finance
can be neatly extracted and banished from the world as we know it.8
For dancers, it is hard to miss that these epithets of sylph-like presence
have been applied to dance itself at great cost to the ways in which it
has been valued and supported. At the same time, dancers are valued
for their creativity, flexibility, absence of material needs. Their love
of art subsidizes their pursuit of perfection – making them the ideal
laborers in an idealized creative economy.9 Rather than accepting this
nefarious dichotomy between the real and the fictitious, dance might
be taken as a key site in which bodies in movement make value; where
circulation is fully inside of production in ways that yield insights into
what sociality can be.

7 See, Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial
Logic of Risk Management (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
8 Curiously, the notion of fundamental value as opposed to its representations that
lead to speculation hand over much of the discipline termed economics especially
its neoliberal formulation, an antinomy that Philip Mirowski has effectively
disclosed recently in his edited collection with Dieter Plehwe, The Road from Mont
Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2009). The transposition between what Marx called fictitious
capital (disintermediated financial transactions between firms) and a false realm
of finance tout court is a temptation of some recent Marxist political economy.
See, John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and
Consequences (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).
9 This affective subsidy of artistic labor is what Andrew Ross has called the “cultural
discount.” See, Andrew Ross, “The Mental Labor Problem,” Social Text 63 (2000):
pp. 1–32. For a trenchant critique of creative class appeals see, Matteo Pasquinelli,
“Creative Sabotage in the Factory of Culture: Art, Gentrification and the Metropolis,”
Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (Rotterdam: NAi Press, 2009).


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Dance might, at first blush, be embarrassed to take on the mantle of
the derivative. Modernist pride would dictate embrace of originality,
innovation, autonomy as what makes dance capable of ruling its roost
and securing its treasures. If, however, that confidence belongs to con-
ditions of dance-making that no longer prevail, other principles of sov-
ereignty will need to be divined if dance is to realize its aesthetic and
political value. The point of departure here is that the derivative, when
treated as a social logic and not only a financial instrument, discloses
what these altered conditions of sovereignty entail. The derivative
brings to notice what potential impact issues from seemingly minor
variations, and of how agency is incorporated and dispersed such that
what appeared scarce is reappraised as a kind of abun-dance. Seeing
how a derivative logic operates in dance holds the double promise of
giving notice to what dance generalizes as social life beyond itself, and
what sustainable principles may already lie to hand in what otherwise
appears as a world in ruins.

Derivative Doubles

Derivatives are being asked to do some heavy lifting, both practically

and conceptually. Some unpacking is in order to see how the derivative
moves from finance through the political quandary posed by network
and organization to dance. In finance, they are to be everywhere, ren-
dering things very different in substance and purpose from matters of
local to global interest. A table might be made to serve a simple meal.
But when the interest rates on loans to the factory, a futures contract
on the price of wood, and the currency exchange rate variations are
blended together with similar factors of production in all manner of
other goods and services, then upon the humble table can be placed
a global feast. Derivatives, in the very manner in which they come to
be, reference a double life, as re-inventions of things for themselves
into matters of interest to others, of local capacities viewed from the
perspective of global attentions, of future prospects seen as present
The imperialist order that was to replace the colonial regimes after
WWII traded the direct political administration of one territory over
another for an invitation – albeit always backed by threat or delivery
of military force  – which in turn rested upon a financial authority
that choreographed the world’s exchanges.10 This monetary architec-

10 The link between the rise of finance and the proliferation of imperialist war was
made by Rudolf Hilferding in his seminal formulation, Finance Capital: A Study of


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ture, often referred to as Bretton Woods (after the agreements that
founded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), came
to ruin in the early 1970s and provided the basis for the arrangements
in which the derivative has figured so prominently. In effect, global
finance morphed from the rule or sovereignty of one currency, the dol-
lar – a standard by which other currencies could be equilibrated and a
store of value in which their worth would be measured – to a schema
where derivatives would allow the exchange of goods to be rendered
directly into a global monetary identification through which they could
be rendered intercommensurable, or subject to a common measure.
This process entailed displacing banks as the sole intermediaries of
financial exchange (what is called disintermediation) and facilitating
the transposition of industrial firms (like General Motors or General
Electric) into manufacturers of financial activities and services. On the
eve of the financial meltdown in 2007, the combined face-value for
derivatives contracts traded publicly in financial markets and privately
and directly between firms (what is called Over-the-Counter) exceed
one quadrillion dollars – nearly twenty times the world’s gross domes-
tic product.11 What appeared as evidence that finance had become
unmoored from industry was in actuality an expression of the pr found
imbrications of production and circulation, of creating and realizing
The world in which derivatives ripened came to be one more ori-
ented to consequences than causes, to the capacity to achieve results
rather than the integrity of first principles. Certainly this was true for
the quantitative models for managing risk. If they worked in measuring
outcomes of events so that actions could be taken or prices assigned,
then the models must be working. This tautology, which has come to
be called performativity by those who study the effects on economists
discursive and mathematical representations on the object they refer
to as the market (a trope that elides the question of labor and pro-
duction altogether) was meant to translate the uncertainties of why

the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (London: Routledge, 1981 [1910]). The
specificity of the U.S. turn is contextualized by Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth
Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (London: Verso, 1994).
11 The notional value of exchange based and over-the-counter derivatives are
tracked by the Bank for International Settlements. The quadrillion dollar figure
comes from adding up the two kinds of derivatives for June, 2008 ($672 billion
for OTC and $428 billion for exchange-based). See, “Statistics on Exchange Traded
Derivatives”,; and “Semi-annual OTC
derivatives statistics,”


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into the actionability of what.12 Accordingly, risk would move from an
unwanted outcome that compromised the security of certainty to an
opportunity for gain whose avoidance would assure certain loss. If we
are to gain any purchase on the social significance of derivative logics
it is vital to focus not only on the ways of knowing risk but of being
risky. The kind of being who embraces risk, the types of policies that
punish those unable to undertake risk to their self-betterment (the at-
risk populations), the confidence that every performance of self can be
translated into models that measure outcomes display myriad incarna-
tions of the derivative logic.
Thought from the perspective of the ways derivatives double in net-
work and organization, the terms of this conjuncture are rendered
more specific (and with dance, more particular still). Identity can cer-
tainly be understood as a bundling together of attributes of person-
hood (through hierarchically ordered classifiers of value such as race,
gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc) and placing these in circulation. That
identity is made through some kind of affiliation with an (imagined)
community points to all manner of organizational forms  – employ-
ment, cultural and legal rights or citizenship, market participation or
consumption – that array and are differentiated by these myriad yet
simultaneous classifications of self. So too, identity does not sit still in
its place, but has become a domain of increasing volatility, negotiation,
flow and dispersal – precisely what network would seem to name. That
the networks in turn order value, as is evident in the rankings of prefer-
ence and judgment, of aggregations of like and dislike through which
the Internet becomes an object of commerce suggests the insinuation
of a derivative logic. Further, the focus on the ways in which small
movements can be leveraged to larger gains, the practice of arbitrage
is specifically the key subject position of the derivatives trader. By
aggregating these bits of attention, the idea is not to capture the whole
person but to set identity in motion, to deliver what will momentarily
stand as a public interest in which so many small hits add up to a hit
with significant impact.
Hopefully, this account of the derivative is beginning to get a bit more
physical, to inscribe the ephemeral in some tangible corporeal anima-
tion. Finance is indeed all about compulsory movement, the obligation
to keep going at all costs, to go forward into the future unencumbered
by historical claims. But if finance spreads movement everywhere,
it generates no language of movement, no sensibility regarding how
we are disposed to go one way and not another, no logic by which

12 See, Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape
Markets (Cambridge: MIT, 2006).


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we might grasp how the imperative to move rules us, how we are
oriented by it, through it, against it toward some realization of how
else we might be moved and by what we might rule together. This
silence and stillness at the heart of finance stages the turn to dance,
a jubilee of practices that sing the praises of bodily indebtedness and
provide flight patterns by which friendly skies might be known. In
dance terms, we can expose the derivative logics that course between
network and organization through the concepts of mobilization and
the social kinesthetic. Mobilization pertains to the medium generating
consequences of movement that render tangible the otherwise ephem-
eral entailments of time and space. Dancing mobilizes time and space
making capacities in one place that draw from wider sensibilities and
are dispersed through aspects of many movement practices by which
bodies move together. To inquire into what dance is made of and what
it makes besides itself references questions of context or conjuncture –
a sensibility that slices through as it conjoins or cleaves bodily atten-
tions and orientations.
Like the ideas of a structure of feeling, a pre-political disposition,
tacit or virtual socialities, it is possible to imagine the material sur-
round of corporal activity before it crystallizes as a specific practical
expression. A social kinesthetic can be understood as the orientation,
sensibility, or predisposition that informs approaches to movement, the
historically specific microphysics that generates and governs motional
force fields.13 From within mobilization all is networked and from the
perspective of a social kinesthetic an organizational rule or logic is
discernable. Neither term is originary, both are derivative. Mobiliza-
tions coalesce in one place from what has been made and will wind
up elsewhere. Social kinesthetics do not impose a genealogy of influ-
ence but a series of lateral connections where disparate practices are
joined through some (but not all) of what organizes them. Surely this
vocabulary is as abstract as that of financial derivatives. It needs to be
grounded in a few practices that will make tangible the operation of a
derivative logic in dance, and that allow us to see the ways in which
dance fleshes out what a derivative might do.

13 Structure of feeling is a term from Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); the pre-political describes the emergent
sensibilities of the working-class in E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English
Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1963); the idea of the virtual as tacit norms that
govern activity is develop by Erving Goffman in Stigma: Notes on the Management
of Spoiled Identity (Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963).


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Decentered Social Kinesthetics

The history of finance is that of a succession of sovereignties, or cur-

rency reigns, of one standard yielding to another as gold, then the
dollar, and then derivatives edge each other out for primacy.14 The
history of dance, at least of Western concert dance, might be told with
a similar inflection. The sovereignty of one body over others or one
technical way of dancing over others establishes not simply a sover-
eignty for dance, but discloses a conception of bodily sovereignty by
which we can detect the contours of a social kinesthetic. The triptych
of classical, modern and postmodern ways of knowing would more
properly be rendered as a trivium, of three ways of moving that come
together. Certainly we can spin the tales of origin of ballet in King
Louis XIVth command to his vassals to join him in court, or of Martha
Graham’s invention of a new technique that would provide the basis
for her movement oeuvre. These two would then be superceded by
a third, the postmodern, where composition would be drawn from
pedestrian movement and collaborative creation. As a glance at the
offerings at any major dance city would suggest, classical, modern and
postmodern are contemporary with one another and in many ways
convergent. If epistemes suggest some sort of progressive succession,
kinesthemes demand a body to be many things at once.15
What is of greater interest here are the ways in which those demands
afford a field in which bodies can be articulated. The classical would
then stand for a condition when imitation of a sovereign, following his
steps as he would follow those of god imagines a divine verticality that
orients balletic movement. If the King’s authority is derived from god,
the steps he takes are codifications of what the folk would be dancing.
Rule would be embodied in this capacity to orient all movement along
a vertical axis, to impose the space of the sovereign on his vassals, to
partner with him in a manner that assures their subordination.
The world that extends from the body of Martha Graham is of a dif-
ferent order even if it shares the same vertical orientation. The mod-
ernist genius, of which she is the exemplary species in dance is marked
by an extraordinary dimension of depth. From this unfathomable well
of creativity will issue the self made by making art, a secular tran-

14 For a representative recent account see, Robert Elson, Governing global finance:
the evolution and reform of the international financial  architecture (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
15 The spatial and temporal multiplicity of the notion of kinestheme may go
farther in realizing Michel Foucault’s own critique of continuous time and space as
developed in his Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Pantheon, 1972).


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scendence, couched as a universalism. In Graham technique this well-
spring is the contraction, a mainline to the archetypes lodged in the
unconscious strata of species or blood memory. Graham is also willing
to admit that her movement derives from two great cultural sources,
African and Native American dance. So far in dance, everything is on
the up and up, as ascent is grounded in genealogical descent. The clas-
sical and the modern combine the age of discovery with that of empire.
But the new financial order installed to break up these very sovereign
claims to bodies the world round will spell the formal demise of this
colonial reach to be displaced by a contest between neo-colonialism
and decolonization. This rupture, self-interestedly dubbed Pax Ameri-
cana, takes a course in dance from the pedestrian elaborations of Jud-
son Church to the risk-taking pyrotechnics of contact improvisation.16
In terms of a social kinesthetic, this break figures a shift from the
vertical to the horizontal, a promissory decolonization of the body that
suddenly brings to notice troves of movement riches once consigned
to the periphery. Certainly the desires for the innocence of nature, and
the exoticism of the orient had been worthy fodder for the classical
and modern kinesthemes. Now choreographic appropriation would
have to contend with a cacophony of bodily practices that erupted in
this dispersed and lateral topography. Just as third world liberation
movements were delivering forms of national sovereignty that jostled
against colonial claims to have the word, the bodily mobilizations that
issued from the ruins of financial sovereignty bore their own demands
of what debt should deliver. These practices turn out to be more gen-
eratively derivative in their expressions, more assertive about what
can rise from the ruins of progress, able to deal with alacrity when
confronted by indifference and enclosure.
The movement practices that help specify a decentered social kin-
esthetic where decolonized bodies assert other modalities of risk are
themselves derivative forms that share, not so much aesthetic influ-
ence as attributes that are features of their self-production. In addition
to post-modern dance, we can look at hip hop and boarding culture
that share some kinesthetic attributes and principles of mobilization
that enable us to grasp political potentialities that inhere in the social
logic of the derivative. The fin that lies at the root of finance pertains
to the process of bringing transactions to an end, but this closure refers

16 The dance accounts here are clearly telescopic. See, for elaboration, Mark Franko,
Dance as Text: Ideologies of the Baroque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1993); Martha Graham, The Notebooks of Martha Graham (New York: Harcourt
Brace Javanovich, 1973); Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater,
1962–1964 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983).


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to a process of life as well. Against the indifference to how movement
is made and where it might lead us, the ruination that the compulsory
drive of finance leaves in its wake, we can look carefully at those ruins
that see what else arises from them.
What is now called financialization emerges from the ruins of the
Bretton Woods agreements in which the post-war sovereignty of the
dollar is undone. What begins to be ruined in this moment as well is
the very dreamscape by which America can be imagined. Innovations
like mortgage-backed-securities respond to a real estate market gone
south. More broadly, the break-up of that enclosure around the privacy
of the home pointed to what a house could no longer hold. What was
released was taken to the streets. Such is the setting for the movement
examples here, each figuring a capitalist promise of utopia that is sub-
sequently abandoned. Liquidating these grounds is the basis for lateral
mobility that suffuses a decentered social kinesthetic, and for deriva-
tive mobilizations that do not require unity to move together. While
ruins in general, to say nothing of the pronouncement regarding the
postmodern itself tend to emphasize disorienting fragmentation that
results in political importunity, a closer look at the socialities borne
through derivative forms opens the blockage between a seemingly ane-
mic sphere of production and a hyperactive domain of circulation.

Dancing Derivatives

Treated heterotopically, postmodern dance, hip hop and boarding cul-

ture point toward a trivium of abandoned space turned to ground for
distributed sovereignty. Consider Trisha Brown’s 1971 Roof Piece, or
Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970).17 The buildings in
question in Manhattan’s Soho have become surfaces for dance when
the manufacturing businesses that had occupied these loft quarters
left the city. This capital flight was no doubt a condition for the cre-
ation of a downtown dance scene (and the subsequent appropriation
of Artist in Residence incentives back to commercial real estate and
gentrification).18 It was also spatial and temporal material from which
a pedestrian movement could be crafted from an urban fabric. In the
context of then emergent environmental art, the minimalist descent

17 For video documentation of these dances see, Trisha Brown: Early Works, 1966–
1979 (Artpix, 2004)
18 See Sharon Zukin, Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), and Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier:
Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1996).


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of a harnessed walker down the side of a building to the dead-space
between, or the long shot of dancers engaged in accumulation phrases
across a series of water-towered roof tops might seem like a bit of a
sight-gag in which the visually-emptied city is re-naturalized. More
properly, these derivative forms of pedestrian movement will lay claim
to the city, will invert its conventional coordinates, and render spaces
of lost utility subject to another principle of speculation. The place-
ment of dance in settings where the body is no longer a temple is not
so many steps away from what will become (in Trisha Brown and
others who develop contact improvisation from various release tech-
niques) an embrace of risk where walking sidewise quickly becomes
flying low.
A bit further uptown and farther into the scenes of what will become
the epicenter of urban abjection, the public projects that were to house
this sturdily mobile industrial proletariat were subject to what was
politely called decay. As if broken down by auto-digestion and fermen-
tation, the projects once treated as the utopian horizon for the urban
poor, the confident affirmation of better living through design were
being dismantled as their promise was abandoned. The epitome of
this collapse was the demolition by explosion of the Pruitt-Igoe Hous-
ing complex in Saint Louis Missouri, 1972. When built in 1955, these
dense blocks of residential warehouses were praised for their elegance
in a new formalism claimed by their architect, Minoru Yamasaki. That
same year that Pruitt-Igoe went down, work was completed on the
north tower of the World Trade Center, another Yamasaki design. The
twinned fates of these building was in some respects anticipated by
the turn away from what came to be considered modernist hubris
among architectural critics and the coining of the term postmodern in
While public housing remains part of the cityscape in New York and
a new tower rises where the old had fallen the time in between has
been marked by the emergence of a quintessential movement form, hip
hop.20 As with postmodern dance, it takes the streets and unsanctioned
surfaces of the city, subway cars especially, as means of expressive
self-production. As movement performed in the round, hip hop joins
other practices derivative of slave expressions like the ring shout. Its
own embrace of released pelvis, reversed polarities of hands and feet,
flying low to the ground, risk as reward and the posse or ensemble that

19 See, Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Riz-
zoli, 1977).
20 For audio-visual documentation of these forms see, Style Wars (Tony Silver,
Public Art Films, 1983).


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sustains it organizationally bear overtones of what will become contact
improvisation in a parallel development over this same period.
That the projects would become but a partial reprieve from the sordid
conditions of the tenement slum inspired the fantasy of the urban
getaway like the waterfront pleasure zones of Coney Island and Rye
Playland. The notion that a pastoral realm of leisure and consumption
could become the organizing principle for laboring masses that left their
workplaces behind was no small inspiration for the suburbs. With water
diverted from agriculture, Southern California real estate developers
of the 1950s wanted to make a strong run on this dreamscape. The
seaside precincts of Santa Monica and Venice would be augmented by
the fantastical Pacific Ocean Park or P.O.P (1958–1967) which perched
atop the main pier could serve as a port of call for suburban bliss. Once
again, the mysterious blight that descended on this paradise issued
from a toxic mix of housing market collapse, drought, and job loss.
As the pier itself fell into ruin, it drew the attentions of surfers, here
too picking up what had been an indigenous Hawaiian practice and
turning its attentions to the perils and conditions of extreme sport.
Like amphibians emerging from the sea, the moves of sweeping low
off-center, gathering lateral momentum and customizing equipment
with neighborhood tags propelled ocean-going boards to landed planks
on wheels. Backyard swimming pools, the icons of suburban success
where left as fetid waters when residents fled in foreclosure. Teams
of skateboarders, most notoriously the Zephyr Boys, drained the
pools and rode the undulating surfaces of concrete. The migration to
snowboards and bmx bicycles was not far behind.21

Generative Risk

It has become common to narrate this migration as one of commer-

cialization and even recuperation of resistant impulses.22 Surely these
instances of upward mobility are evident in postmodern dance and
hip hop, but the intriguing feature about derivative logics is what
they leave behind – which turns out to be most of the networked and
organized sociality crafted and created by the practitioners engaged in
these forms. Claiming such narrows parameters of success or making

21 For documentation of these practices at their inception and a treatment of

the cultural and geopolitical surround, captured on film by the participants, see,
Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, Columbia Tri-Star, 2001).
22 This is the argument in Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City: Archi­
tecture, the Body and Performative Critique (Oxford: Berg, 2001).


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it trades a selective outcome for a reductive account of intentional-
ity that begs the question of why so many people spend so much
time doing what they claim for themselves. A decentered social kin-
esthetic runs on sentience in a world marked by spectacle. Yet the
very conception of a society of the spectacle rests on a chasm between
performance and audience that is both violated and bridged in these
movement practices. The iterative process of rehearsal, of taking turns
doing movement for one another amounts to a continuous shuttling
between viewer and actor so as to render the spectacular internal to
performance. Watching does not substitute for but enables doing. Nor
is the rest of the ensemble merely watching. They are securing the
space, documenting the event (and documentation whether by newly
available capture technologies such as super-8 or portable video cam-
eras, or for that matter graffiti tagging on subway cars itself as a means
of image capture and dissemination), serving as critics and publicists,
showing, comparing, appropriating what others are doing. That all of
these practices from the seventies and early eighties can be accessed
now through short form, do-it-yourself video-sharing sites like youtube
or vimeo only speaks to the deeply imbricated relations of production
and circulation, networked dissemination and organization of produc-
tive capacities, leverage of small volatilities (of movement and space)
and arbitrage of how and where to place one’s body in situations of
generative risk.
The emphasis in these three movement practices on flying low,
off-center release to gravity, reversing position and purpose of hands
and feet (for mobility and balance) all serve to reorient the motional
drive of the body from vertical lift to horizontal loft. These kinesthetic
conditions do not form a stylistic unity but could be said to express
the lateral mobility by which derivative logics themselves become so
prominent a feature of movement. The underlying sources of pedes-
trian, slave, and indigenous bodily practices are decolonized from their
initial terms and settings to refigure those who by tradition would be
assigned to the populations at risk into crafting corporal economies
where risk counts as its own reward. A risky move is granted imme-
diate value by the creative ensemble, it need not await final delivery
precisely in the manner that a derivative affords a price on a good or
service that has not yet been made or come due. Derivatives promise
continuous and real-time assessment of value that moves the constant
calibration of the market into the hitherto hidden abode of production.
The streets, pools, walls on which these decolonizing bodies move are
exposed already to the prospects of evaluative surveillance (whether
cops chasing out boarders and taggers from illicit grounds, or cameras
capturing the deed itself for further distribution). The question of who


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owns a given move may certainly be an object of spirited conten-
tion but the insinuation of these lateral, risk-making maneuvers across
so many ruinous sites eclipses the proprietary claims of possessive
individualism by which celebrity may be measured with a distributed
possession by which participation in these practices multiplies. The
measure of these risks taken is to reappraise which attributes will get
bundled together given excess capacity.
The capacity to collectively re-value lateral mobility that these
movement practices evidence also speak to the very demographic shift
away from opportunities for upward mobility that will characterize
the prospects for so many young people that the risk-shifting seventies
and eighties yield. The disinvestment in infrastructure and social
services, the flattening of wages and mounting consumer debts, the
repositioning of government from a guarantor of security through a
bundle of defined benefits to an investor based citizenship based upon
contribution – all converge in this conjuncture to darken the screen of
the American dreamscape. Even the supposedly iconic figure of the
yuppie, the hyper-affluent precocity of effective self-investment, effaces
the much broader trend of diminished opportunities and rewards for
those who would follow the post-war boomer generation.
While the ranks of the professional managerial class continued to
swell, the autonomy by which these knowing selves would achieve
sovereignty was increasingly diminished. While public funding for
the arts might be under attack from the eighties forward, the notion
that artists could serve as models for revitalization of what financial
ascent had left in ruins led to a litany of privatizing public works by
which creativity would raise all boats – be they depleted cities or de-
plenished middle classes. Closer to the ground, however, and despite
an industry-in-the-making focused on compensatory self-help (when
governments, labour unions, professional associations and parties
were not available to do so), youth culture was re-oriented around a
do-it-yourself ethos (DIY).23
The moral panic directed by re-energized conservatives at idle (but
really idled) youth would cast a broad net of guilt over errant culture –
whether that is screen or stage, digital monomania or excessive
streetlife.24 But we could see in these decentered movement practices

23 For a critical look at the advent of self-help, see, Micki McGee, Self-Help, Inc.:
Makeover Culture in American Life (New York: Oxford, 2006).
24 The notion of moral panic was developed in British cultural studies of youth
culture and crime, and has morphed into a generalized trope of war on domestic
populations. The seminal study is Stuart Hall, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, The State
and Law and Order (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1978) and the updated reflection


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derivative cousins of moshing, mashing and mixing, as well as in alter-
nate artistic practices of collectives and collaboratories, images for self-
production, self-representation and self-dissemination.25
The past forty years in which finance emerged from one ruined
ground to plough through yet another have re-oriented some senses
by which what can be done, what is available for doing, and what
wealth exists for have been subject to particular regimes of evalua-
tion. Derivatives came to stand for vast aggregates of wealth unmoored
from any particular purpose. The imperial power which has histori-
cally underwritten financial sovereignty has also morphed into a kind
of discretionary intervention, easy to enter but difficult to sustain jus-
tification for. Yet what is also clear is that among these imperatives to
be driven by risk, other sensibilities of what it means to make more or
other out of what we have are also to hand (and foot). Sensing dance
from the perspective of the derivative, between the fluid ephemeral-
ity of networks that vanish without a trace and the static durability of
organizations that lurch from crisis to crisis replicating their structures,
opens approaches to embodied ensembles that assemble attributes to
leverage further movement and value. If the polarity between network
and organization has proven to be a trap that promised escape but
leads back to the starting point, the derivative logic as presented here
plays inside and outside of these dance practices allowing them to
shuttle between the ground they inhabit and the world that they rip-
ple through. Difference is realized immediately in the risk well taken,
and deferred to other connections that remain promissory notes. The
derivative logic might also help dance out of its own trap of ephemeral-
ity and location. Performances are, after all, derived from many other
times, of rehearsal, of training, of touring; and they gather together
movements from myriad locales, experiences, sources and recalibrate
and recompose them for a given intervention. Seen from this expanded
field, dance is already everywhere.
Conversely, finance has touted vast abundance that leaves scarcity
for others in its wake. But like the hands and feet of decentered move-
ment practices, the polarities of value can readily be reversed and
the extremes of movement possibility mined to point to what else we
might be and do together. Lateral mobility lives with what it has. If

in the U.S. context of generational abandonment is provided by Lawrence Gross-

berg, Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future (Boulder: Paradigm
Publishers, 2005).
25 For an account of this elaborate but unseen and undervalued mass of creative
labor that underwrites the art world see, Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and
Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2010).


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capital has jettisoned its own utopian promises, emerging social logics
of the derivative point us in different directions. Utopia as an ends we
touch through our own means of intervention. The ruins left are not
sources of poverty, depletion and shame but the very roots of what
could make population assemble for its own sake, to value it ensemble
capacities as creative choreographies. Population has a double and
internally antagonistic etymology in the action of laying waste or ruin
of the country and to people or inhabit a domain. Valuing the ways in
which we are linked together without being one, that we share certain
sensibilities of moving together without needing to model or imitate
some one opens conceptions of sovereignty as self-production that just
might serve as a momentary realization of the future in the present.
The much vaunted and readily dismissed ephemerality of dance (and
finance) would thereby assume a generative durability, an elaboration
of times and spaces in which collectivity itself would gain and circulate
its own currency.


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Saša Asentić and Ana Vujanović

“My Private Bio-politics”

A Performance on the Paper Floor (Third phase)


Our contribution to the book Dance, Politics, and Co-Immunity should

be considered as a textual version of the performance, suitable to the
printed format of a theoretical volume. Thus, this is neither a text
about the performance nor its description but a performance itself, a
performance on paper.

You open the page.

There are credits:

MY PRIVATE BIO-POLITICS, lecture-performance

Author and performer: Saša Asentić

Assistant: Olivera Kova²ević-Crnjanski
Theoretical support and dramaturgy: Ana Vujanović
Duration: 50 min
The performance is part of the research-artistic project Indigo Dance.

Producer: Per.Art, Novi Sad

The performance was made in co-production with the Centre national
de la danse  – Paris, research in residency (Theorem Dance residen-
cies), and it was prepared within the trainings of practical dramaturgy
THe FaMa in Belgrade and Dubrovnik. It was supported by DanceWEB
(with the support of the Cultural Programme 2000 of the European
Union within the frame of danceWEB Europe).

Then you open the next double-page.

You enter the hall. Working lights. A male performer in trousers and
T-shirt is already on the stage. The stage is about 11 x 8 m. On the left
page you can see a square of mostly paper material on the floor. Among
them you can recognize some books, a video camera, a lot of docu­
ments, one chair, an unrecognizable black boxlike object, and along
the diagonal of the square several ceramic pots. On the right there is
another square; it is a “ring”, marked by very thin white thread, some
10 cm from the ground. In the right back corner of the “ring”, there is a


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goblin on gantry; it depicts the figure of a female dancer. The performer
is preoccupied with the needlework.
You are looking at him … more than browsing the pages set design.
At one moment you finally calm.

Now I will perform My Private Bio-politics for the 34th time!

It is part of “Indigo Dance” project.

The premiere of this performance was on the 11th February, three

years ago. It was in the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad on the
stage called Hinterbühne.
In its first year, the work was presented at various festivals and art
centres in Eastern and Western Europe.
While re-thinking this period, I have realized that the performance
started to exhaust its initial concept through the regular circulation
within the contemporary dance system.

On 11th February two years ago in the Serbian National Theatre, on

the 1st anniversary of this performance, I performed the special jubilee
edition of My private bio-politics, and it was the last time that I per-
formed it in its original and integral version.

That night, after the jubilee, I decided to change this performance:

from a work-in-progress
into a work-in-regress!

Which means that in its second year, the performance was gradually
canceled through its regression. Every time I was invited to perform it
I performed less and less of the live event, replacing its parts with their
video documentation.

Finally last year, on the 2nd anniversary I performed it in Belgrade

without any performance. The audience watched only the video.

In Dance, Politics, and Co-Immunity I/we will perform “My private bio-
politics” performance in its 3rd phase that I will reveal to you during
the performance.

Now, it is very important to me not only to perform for you but also to
prepare the video material that I will send to producers, programmers,
directors of different festivals that present contemporary dance
I would need your help to prepare it!


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The performer is opening his lap-top:

Which festivals might be considered?

At this moment there is no open call for the festivals that I am
interested in …
But as I have already performed this work I realized that what is more
efficient than application is >>>>>>>> recommendation!
Thus, after performing in Berlin at the Tanz im August festival I have
received following e-mail:

Dear Sasa Asentic, 

I got your e-mail address from Julia Wocke, Tanzwerkstatt Berlin. I’m
writing from “brut”, a new international coproduction-house for per-
formance, dance and theatre in Vienna. Our artistic directors Heiko
Pfost and Thomas Frank are very interested in your work and would
be pleased if you could send us a video from your performance My
own private biopolitics.
Is that possible?
Just send it to the address below, 

thank you very much,

Larissa Bizer

He is closing his lap-top and putting it in the left front corner of the
“boxing ring”.
He is taking his clothes off, putting them in the right front corner.
He is now only in his underwear with a fake animal or maybe Balkan-
macho fur on the shoulders, chest, and back.
He is pouring blue pounce on his hair, making the shape of a small
hat, and adding a red spot just above his forehead.
He is making an altar in the left back corner – putting an Orthodox
icon on top, and adding real whistle around the neck of the saint.
He is giving a sign for start.

When I was a kid I wanted to become an artist.

A 5-minute symbolic and pathetic choreography in the “ring”.

The light is changing, becoming overtheatrical. The scene is silent. You
see the fight of a weak and unskillful animal with an invisible enemy.
It is trying. It is failing. It is on the floor. Finally it decides to stand up
and survive. It stays as a live sculpture of Victory.


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The performer suddenly steps out the “boxing ring”.
The light changes immediately, again into working light.

When I was a kid I wanted to become an artist.

I was 7–8 years old. I don’t know why I wanted to become an art-
And I was thinking about how to become artist and in which art
should I be an artist.
And I was thinking to paint is very difficult because you need to
Then music, for me was, I need to learn solfeggio – you know it’s
very difficult.
Dancing was of course …. so I said: no!
And finally I’ve arrived to the fact that I should become an actor,
because actors are doing the same in the movie or in the theatre like
in real life.
I thought it was not much to learn.
Yeah, I was very young!

The performer is taking off the fake animal or maybe Balkan-macho fur
from his shoulders, chest, and back.
He is putting on Adidas shorts and an athlete T-shirt.

So, in the next years I started to take acting classes with kids until the
time I was 16.
I  was 16. I was in acting class and I had to go out on stage and
to make my scene but I didn’t learn the text. Yeah, I was very lazy.
You’ve got it from the beginning. Even at 8 I was already lazy.
And then the teacher – I think he was, he couldn’t stand it anymore
and he said: ok – go away. I don’t want you in the class anymore and
you? he won’t make performance!
I was very, very shocked!
But it was in the cultural centre and in this room after the acting class
there was a dance class. So, I decided to stay in the room. He said: go
out, I said: no – and I stayed in the room, and I stayed in the room for
the dance class. So, the dancers came and the teacher came and I took
the dance class.
Everybody was ok.  A new student … I’ve started to do exercises.
Warm up.

He is doing exercises.


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Like this. Like this. And it was ok. And after a while you do, at the end
of the warm up, you do the big split.

He is trying to do a big split position.

And ok, now I cannot do it anymore.

But the thing is: I did it!
I’d never tried it before and at once … it was something like
impossible … you know …
and we did the warming up and exercises and I could do it. I was
so surprised! I was watching me! I was watching the position! I was
calling everybody saying: “Look I did it!”
I couldn’t believe it!
It’s fantastic, interesting …
And in fact, it was very easy for me to dance.
I didn’t have to work!
I was doing this. And I was imitating the dance, I mean the
And ok! And the teacher loved me! Gave me private classes for
So, I’ve become a dancer!

In the performance Pichet Klunchun and myself Jérôme Bel gave this
answer to the question of why did he, Jerome Bel, become a dancer?

The performer is changing his clothes, putting on again the trousers

and T-shirt.
He is walking around the left square.

I’ve been working on this material during my residency in May 2006 in

the Centre national de la danse in Paris within the Theorem dance resi-
dence program. In the mediatheque of the Centre I’ve got acquainted
with the work of several crucial choreographers from the French and
Western European contemporary dance scene in general. Amongst oth-
ers, I was attracted by the work of Jérôme Bel from whose performance
Pichet Klunchun and myself I took the the above quotation.
I presented this “quoting scene” for the first time in Dubrovnik,
Croatia during the interdisciplinary dramaturgy coaching program  –
also in May 2006.
These were 2nd and 3rd working periods, but the first one which was
the starting point of Indigo Dance project – an artistic research dance
project – was in November 2005 in Belgrade within an interdisciplinary
dramaturgy coaching.


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(We all take a step aside – or any other direction – to detach ourselves
from the flow of the performance)

He announces:

And, now it’s time for a digression. I apologize for interrupting the
spectacle. Please be patient, in just a few minutes the performance
will continue to run.

Here, together with my colleagues, I would like to open a gap through

which we temporarily escape? both from the original version of this
performance as work-in-progress and from the later phase as work-in-
Beyond this gap, there is a 3rd phase in which you can find My pri­
vate biopolitics and the whole Indigo Dance project not as an art work,
a “piece” but as a discursive platform.
The platform is meant to be an artistic means, or a methodological
tool which we wish to share with contemporary dance and performance
artists, who are willing to reflect their contexts and public work. And
also to all who have something to say about the structure of the global
World of contemporary dance and performance.

With this digression we want to open up the possibility for the work
itself to be transformed into its own archeology. Together with other
colleagues from other contexts we want to discover or to reveal its
multiple layers without an artistic aura that could seduce our gaze.

So, please consider this performance only as its own possible demon-
stration or actualization, and as a part of an open research platform
that includes also talks, methodological games, discussions, etc.

Ok, now I will continue as nothing has happened …Maybe nothing has

happened, indeed.

He is sitting on the chair. During the speech he is walking through the

materials from time to time, showing some of them to the audience.

These are my materials!

I have collected all of them during these working periods that I have
just mentioned – but before that, there were several, to be precise –
three situations, three reasons to even start thinking about the new


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– After having watched several Serbian contemporary dance
productions I asked myself: Is there any other possible way to produce
contemporary dance in Serbia than to copy techniques and concepts
that are popular, almost even trendy, and that are usually or only
coming from the West? This was the first situation.
– The second situation occured during work on the performance
Fragments which was the production of New Dance Forum of the Ser-
bian National Theatre in 2005. I was developing a solo within that
project … And in the final phase when decisions had to be taken about
which materials / scenes were going to be part of the performance and
which were not – it was decided that that solo was not to become part
of the Fragments performance, because it was seen as being “a parody
of ballet” and that would not be a right thing to do – I was told. …I
was very, very shocked! I had tried to explain that it was not about a
parody of ballet but about dance education in Serbia – that solo was
about the possibility to develop a dancing /dancer’s? body, to educate
the dancing/dancer’s? body out of the only existing dance education
system in Serbia! However, that solo was evacuated from Fragments
and I used it as “fuel” for Indigo Dance project. …But the interesting
thing is that the solo was evacuated even from this performance at the
end, as well. So, I was wondering if the destiny of that solo was to be
continuously elusive for the audience. The thing I can guarantee you is
that this solo is present in traces in tonight’s performance!
– The 3rd situation that enhanced Indigo Dance project happened
probably because I was intensively thinking about all these problems,
all these materials – so, one morning I had a dream! It was June 19,
2005, 9:34 AM – when I sent this email to Bojana Cvejić, theorist from
Belgrade and Brussels. In this email I described the dream that I had!

He is taking the letter from the floor, reading it aloud or rather re-telling

In the dream Bojana Cvejić has a new performance.

It is something between theoretical performance and circus! Together
with Bojana Cvejić there is a real trained elephant. In this dream the
elephant represents the dance scene from Serbia. But which part of the
dance scene? The part that has had a ballet education and is now trying
to make a step into experiencing contemporary dance. The interesting
thing in this dream is that the elephant responds to questions and
tasks given by Bojana Cvejić and takes position of self-criticism and
self-irony. And in some moments it seems that the elephant is being
aware of what it is being told and that is not only about mechanically
trained reactions.


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He is moving from pot to pot along the diagonal, toward the front stage,
attaching a copy of the image of a figure whose legs and hands are
mixed up to each of them???.

How to understand influential choreographers instead of copying or

imitating them?
That is a central question of this work!
Influences are of great importance indeed – development would not
be possible if we would be closed off from influences. But how are we
to understand them?
…What is it that can make my work, my dance not into a copy? Or to
be more precise, what is it that can give me the possibility to perform
the same scene from let’s say Shirtology or The Show Must Go on or
Pichet Klunchun and myself by Jérôme Bel – and not to be a copy?
In this work my attempt is to use a quotation as an intentional
choice of indicating references, history, context … the quotation is
given explicitly, but it is not a literally copied phrase but a process of
Is translation an alternative to copying?
The translation that is not oriented toward coping or achieving an
equivalence to its original, but which is focused on reflecting its own
local context and on finding the phenomena, terms, solutions adequate
to the context in which the dance trends, concepts, and influences are
being introduced.
Hence, the translating where the translation is more important than
its original!

When finished, he is proudly showing the row of the “enchased” pots.

This is a copy of the photo from well-known performance Self-unfin­

ished by the very influential choreographer Xavier le Roy.

Really, how to understand such a great and influential choreo­

grapher but not to make him an ornament?


Just to clarify something about this thesis.

Conceptual dance that is the most influential in our dance contexts
is not a big mainstream paradigm of European dance scene but it’s a
marginal practice.
And that is just what the problem is about!


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We “bet” on conceptual dance, as if it were the only hope, the only
chance, the only crack through which we  – as being outside of the
European dance scene – can pierce through and appear on it!

He is moving through the materials.

The influences mostly come from the West.

The quotation that I performed right after leaving the ring of my local
context, I presented for the first time Dubrovnik, Croatia. Later on,
during the discussion that followed I was told by Goran Sergej Pristaš,
dramaturge from the Centre for Drama Arts from Zagreb, that after the
first few sentences he had thought:
“Ough, Saša no! Don’t go into the autobiographic sentimental story
about how you became a dancer.
It will totally ruin the stream of performance
which was good until that moment”! (As he said)
…Of course he thought like this only until the moment when
he realized that this scene was about an explicit quotation!
It put me in position to ask myself: What does it mean exactly?
Does it mean that Jérôme Bel has the right to perform an
autobiographic story about how he became a dancer? And in his case
it is a new contemporary dance production? And that I don’t have that
right to contemporaneity?
Who has the right to contemporaneity?
…Thinking about possible answers to this question, the text by Bojana
Kunst, theorist from Ljubljana, “Performing Other Body” published in
TkH Journal no. 4, 2002 helped me a lot! In the text she writes about
why the East always fails in keeping step with “contemporaneity” to
which the West has an almost exclusive right?

The performer is staying between the squares, just in front of you.

Is the only right that is left for us – is the right to be:
exotic (showing the ring),
amateurish (showing himself),
old-fashioned (showing the materials),
because we do not have the right to contemporaneity?

Is the only right that is left for us  – the right to a non-articulated
still absent,
confused, a bit awkward, too bodily, too romantic, a narrative


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the body as an attempt, as a late physicality,
which is always limited to the specific, particular context (political,
traditional, ethnical, local, marginal)?
… the right to the dance that is late in cultural, technological,
aesthetic and all other terms?!


In Dubrovnik, when I was supposed to give a presentation of this

work, one of the technicians asked me if I could use the lights of other
performances because he was too lazy to set them up, to prepare them
for me!
I was very shocked! I said: “No, I need my lights for my perfor-
… But then I asked myself what would happen if I included his
question, his proposal into my work and if I let my work be visible, be
defined only by other surrounding performances?

To the technicians:

Please, in the next few minutes give me the lights of all the perfor-
mances that have been performed here in this space!!!

You are teleported together with the performer to Novi Sad!


The performer is standing on the very back of the scene, behind the
The lights are changing arbitrarily, making points where there are no
points, and re-reading the scene strangely … maybe annoyingly …

This is the Hinterbühne! This is the dance floor!

This is a place of contemporary dance in Novi Sad and one of the
few in Serbia.
This is place of New Dance Forum!
This is an isolating tape!
On this dance floor there are many traces of dance.
I will try to isolate them on this dance floor.

He is crouching and looking at the floor carefully.

It’s hard to see them …


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But the the lights of other surrounding performances will help me
to find them!
I will mark the traces of the performances presented on this dance
floor …
Probably, I will mark the traces of New Dance Forum productions.
Here is one!

He is isolating it, as well as all the others he finds, with the tape.

Maybe this is a trace of Language of Walls?

Here is another one! Fragments!
And one more! Smile of the Mind!
Maybe I will mark the dance traces of Galina Borissova, Dalija
Acin, Isidora Stanisic, and traces of the ballet ensemble of the Serbian
National Theatre.

Which of these traces have the privilege to presence?
Which of these traces are the traces of dance that is already late,

I am marking them, I am tracing them, …because they remain very

In Serbia contemporary dance doesn’t last for a long time!
Here traces of dance remain very briefly!
There are no historical traces; they are erased, they are invisible.


Am I also already late in this attempt to mark the dance traces?

You are teleporting back to your common context as a Dance, Politics,

and Co-Immunity reader.
The light is changing, and turning to the working light.
The performer is walking between the squares.

However, what is important for marking dance and its more lasting
traces are not only the dance traces themselves but also other sur-
rounding practices.

Thinking about what can I do with this I remembered the work of

Ana Vujanović and Tanja Marković “Artists Have to Walk through


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Then, I realized that the majority of the dance scene in Serbia neglects
this as it conceives a dance piece does not address theory.
We have the situation where choreographers and dancers don’t need
to articulate their work in theoretical terms.
So, I was thinking what would happen if we replace the words in
this statement
“Artists have to walk through theory”,
And if we say:
“Dancers – have – to – dance – through – theory“
“Dancers – have – to – walk – through – dance“
What kind of new engagement would be required from us?
And would this new engagement make the traces (to become) more

Or, all that I am saying and presenting to you here has nothing to do
with it!
What if it is only a matter of geo-politics?
Then all my materials that I’ve prepared for tonight are meaning-
The performer is taking a paper from the left square, and reading in
Serbian the decision of the Department for Culture of the City of Novi
In the decision, they politely inform him that they decided not to
support the project “Indigo Dance”, because its content, although inter­
esting, is not a subject matter of the Department (i.e. a matter of cul­
These were some of the materials!
As you can see there are more, but of course I am not going to pres-
ent them all now.
I don’t have time!
I have to prepare the video of this performance!
I would need your help to do it and I can’t hold you here for the
whole day or night.
I have to act fast!!!
What to do with all of them?
Each of them presents the local “specificum” which, in fact, neither
we ourselves nor I suppose the International co-production house
Brut in Vienna want to know about, where they expect me to present
contemporary dance and new dance tendencies.


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I’ve decided to purify my work, to purify my dance.
I should clear it of local context because that is what is acceptable.
Only exotic or pure dance, uninterrupted flow of movement is

Showing by finger the black plastic box:

So, I decided to include this object in my work to help me clear it of

local “specificum”
and to give me more chances to make my way to the this co-produc-
tion house in Vienna!

The box is in fact paper shredder.

The performer is turning the electricity on, shredding and destroying
most of the materials from the left square.
He is using the paper cuttings as confetti to decorate his path on the
central line of the stage (between the squares).

Now, I am free of context!

I’m ready!!!

I need two more elements to be completely ready.

One is this upper part of a track suit that suits me perfectly; together
with this second hand trousers and second hand T-shirt it gives me a
“Berliner second hand look”!
With no doubt I am now recognizable as a contemporary dancer,
and I’m totally into the new dance tendencies!
And the second element is the light for contemporary dance!

He is wearing the upper part of a track suit.

Floor light is on.

Slowly we are getting closer to the moment when we will finish the
video of this performance!
If you have been listening to me at the beginning while I was reading
the e-mail you could hear that they asked me to send a video of my
From now on it will be the part of the performance that I will actually
send to the artistic directors of Brut centre in Vienna.
Because it will be pure dance, uninterrupted flow of movement, with
all the necessary elements of contemporary dance!


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I don’t want to risk that with all theother materials that I had prepared
for this performance no one will be interested in it, will be interested
in local specificum that disturbs the flow of dance!
I don’t want my work to be considered as a betrayal of the bound
between dance and movement.
So, it will be only this pure dance that will follow now, made within
its familiar parameters!

Now I would need your help to record this on camera.

He is taking the camera from the left square and inviting one of you to
record. You or if not you then some other good willing visitor or reader
is taking the camera.
The camera is on (you can use the camera on your mobile phone as


Serbian National Theatre – Hinterbühne, again


When I was a kid I didn’t want to become an artist.

The performer is singing and dancing “The Last Tango” all over the
He is performing a series of dance sequences, from his own or the oth­
ers’ performances. They seem familiar to you. The changes are very fast.
All kinds of movement and dance styles are included. It is something
like a dance nightmare.
While a strange music (you can only recognize words: Je ne sais
pas …) is running he slowly dances on the confetti path, from the front
stage, turning his back to you.
The fire protection metal “curtain” is opening.
You can see the Main stage behind.
While dancing, the performer is leaving the Hinterbühne and entering
the Main stage of the Serbian National Theatre. The spot light is on.
He is dancing on the Main stage!
In a found set.
In front of the empty auditorium.

Music stops.


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The performance is over.

You are back to your common context.
Stop recording with the camera.


He is staying on the page, in front of you, looking you in the eyes.

I am Saša Asentić, native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, based in Ser-

This was my My Private Bio-politics performance.
After the premiere, the most important question to me was: Why did
festivals from Western Europe (such as Tanz im August – TiA) invite
me to perform?
I asked myself the question because I couldn’t understand it –
this work criticizes the Western monopoly of contemporary dance;
besides it is neither Balkan-exotic nor virtuous;
moreover it is not even a dance!
So, why have I been invited?

I would take the TiA festival invitation as an example!

When André Theriault, one of artistic directors of TiA, invited me,
he told me that the questions that I raised in the performance were
important not only for my local context but also to their scene. I guess
he meant the Berlin dance scene, the Western dance scene.
It was very challenging to accept to perform on TiA, because I had
to find the answer to this question – otherwise all the questions that
I raised in this work would become senseless and neutralized by the
TiA invitation!
So, together with my colleague Ana Vujanović we came up with sev-
eral possible conclusions, and the most optimistic assumption that we
decided to include in this very performance is the following one:
Maybe TiA or other festivals from the West wants to be critical
towards its own context in the same way as we are in this work
towards our local context?
If so, TiA needs this work to criticize its own context – because TIA
cannot do it, cannot criticize it by itself as being part of it, as already
being inside the system.
Maybe that’s why TiA invited this work three years ago and so did
festivals in New York, Moscow, Paris, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Salzburg,
etc. later  – maybe they all invited this performance as a critical


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perspective from outside of the syste?,And its real, not only symbolic
outside position is the very symptom it talks about: the Western
monopoly over the contemporary dance scene.
Maybe these festivals are fully aware that their critical potential is
weak and in fact benign as it is already adopted and appropriated by
the system they belong to.
If it is so, then they made a mistake!
Because thanks to these invitations this performance also becomes
a part of the system, adopted by the system and legitimatized by the
system. And I am, by performing it, loosing my exceptional critical
position – the outside position that is material evidence of the criticism
that I am performing!

If all these assumptions are correct then I can only apologize to all of
you for not fulfilling your expectations, being aware that my critical
performance became just one more piece at these festivals!
It’s not my personal fault, and it’s not your or their personal fault.
That is how the art, dance system operates.

Now, I am wondering if I was a part of the system even before these

Did this mistake date from much before?
According to Boris Groys:
“The only difference between Western and Eastern art is
that Eastern art always comes from the East!”

It’s time to turn the page.

If you would stay a bit more to develop this work further?

After the self-abolition of this performance as an art work in the 3rd

phase, we comprehend the work as an artistic means, a methodologi-
cal tool which we wish to share with contemporary dance and per-
formance artists, who are willing to reflect their contexts and public
work and with all who have something to say about the structure of the
global World of contemporary dance and performance.
We would like to invite you to join us in this research and to develop
your own “private bio-politics” – thinking about which other stories
could be told about symbolical ownership over history and concepts,
about the monopolizing of the global dance and performance scene,


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and about the patronization of “the backward” and “the always late

We would usually propose to start with a discussion or an after talk

moderated by a (local / present) theorist, artist or in this case by you
on the spot. After that, you can play some of the methodological games
(Impersonation game, Generique, etc.) by applying them to the sub-
jects and problems raised in My private bio-politics.
For more info about the games please visit: www.everybodystool- or contact us:


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5. The Politics of Community

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Ramsay Burt

The Biopolitics of Modernist Dance

and Suffragette Protest

The English premier of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps took place a

few weeks after one of the grimmest events in the campaign of the
militant suffragettes. An old newsreel film shows the huge number
of women who joined the suffragette procession on 14th June 1913
as Emily Howard Davison’s coffin was taken through the west end of
London to Kings Cross Station on its way to her funeral in Morpeth,
Northumberland in the north of England. On 4th June she had stepped
in front of the King’s horse Anmer during the Derby, subsequently
dying of her injuries. Later that month, Diaghilev’s company (which
was subsequently known as the Ballets Russes) arrived in London
to present a season of ballets and operas that opened at the Theatre
Royal, Drury Lane on June 24th. This would include on 11th July
the first of three London performances of The Spring Festival, as the
ballet’s French title was initially translated, which ended with a solo
by a young ballerina Maria Piltz. This represented the sacrifice of a
Chosen One who dances herself to death. Though Davison’s intention
remains unclear, her fellow Suffragettes saw her death as a sacred gift
or ­sacrifice. Piltz’s sacrificial dance plays a similar function for the
ballet’s imaginary community. There is however no direct connection
between Sacre and the Suffragettes beyond their historical coincidence.
Reading their histories side by side raises issues concerning the mod-
ern body that were central to both militant protests and avant-garde
dance at a time when the body was becoming the focus of biopolitical
concern. The way the British government imprisoned and force-fed
suffragette protesters reveals what Roberto Esposito calls the immuni-
tary dispositif, where the modern state’s biopolitical policies damage
the health of its subjects, through its efforts to preserve and support
life.1 This presentation brings together discussions about biopolitics
with ideas that dance scholars have been developing about corpore-
ality in order to read the suffragette protests as primarily non-verbal
performances and to interpret the final sacrificial dance of the Chosen
One in Sacre as an affirmative feminist act.
The fact that British women in the early years of the twentieth cen-
tury were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections exemplifies

1 Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy (Minneapolis: Minnesota Uni-

versity Press, 2008).


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the restrictions placed on women’s access at that time to the public
sphere. Because their voices were in effect silenced, many found other
means, including non-verbal embodied ones, for formulating and sig-
nifying specifically female aspirations for change in a modern world.
Denied the right to be heard, they used their bodies as weapons in
their campaign for freedom and equality. Noting that the motto of the
militant Women’s Social and Political Union was ‘Deeds not Words’,
Wendy Parkins argues: “Suffragettes did not simply act to become citi-
zens or act like citizens, they acted citizenship”.2 In the ballet Sacre,
Piltz’s solo made a similar revelation of what the modern body on
its own can do, the radical extremes to which Piltz pushed her new,
powerfully visceral dance movements leaving a disturbing impression
on many in the audience. Arguably neither the militants’ campaign nor
the ballet’s avant-garde innovations were successful in the short term
in bringing about the kinds of social or cultural transformations that
those involved in them hoped for. They have however become impor-
tant historical events that people look back to as sources of hope and
inspiration because they were moments when radical interventions by
women created potential for change.
Nijinsky’s radical new approach to choreography in Sacre stripped
away the movement conventions and traditions of the vocabulary of
classical ballet, leaving the dancer with only the precarious vitality of
her body as the means through which to reveal new artistic freedoms.
Davison was imprisoned eight times for militant actions, and force-fed
many times. By presenting the spectacle of female bodies pushing to
their limits, both Piltz and the Suffragettes posed the question: what
is a liveable life? At the same time however, the state was becom-
ing concerned with how to manage and govern biological life. The
body was becoming a site of contest between women’s aspirations for
freedom and the state’s need to maintain social order, this contesta-
tion problematising the social contract. Roberto Esposito points out
that communities have always had some kind of contract whereby
its members pay a due  – or munus  – and in return benefit from an
immunitary dispositif that defends the lives of its members. This pro-
cess, he argues, becomes increasingly complex and dysfunctional in
modern times. Where modernity weakens what Roberto Esposito calls
natural defences, he observes that life has needed to be organised
by artificial procedures that have not always produced their intended
consequences. The most important political character of modernity,
he argues, “manifests itself in the linguistic and institutional forms

2 Wendy Parkins, “Protesting like a Girl: Embodiment, Dissent and Feminist

Agency,” Feminist Review 1 (2000): p. 63.


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adopted by the immunitary logic in order to safeguard life from the
risks that derive from its own collective configuration”.3 In some cases
contradictions within this configuration lead to a paradox “that pushes
the protection of life over into its potential negation.”4 Like autoim-
mune illness, “the protective apparatus becomes so aggressive that
it turns against its own body (which is what it should be protecting)
leading to its own death.”5
The Ballets Russes as an international enterprise and the British cam-
paign for women’s suffrage were products of modernity, while at the
same time revealing its complexities and contradictions and in some
cases implicitly criticising these. The dramaturgy of the ballet explored
the shocking situation in which a young woman is expelled from her
fictional community and dies through exhausting her body’s vitality.
This is her sacred gift. This should not however be conflated with a
munus paid in order to be part of a community. The one is freely given
while the other is a compulsory deduction. The question of commu-
nity is complicated in the case of the Suffragettes. Their aim was to
become fully enfranchised members of the national community. One
of their complaints was that women were subject to taxation but could
not vote for the parliamentary representatives who decided how their
taxes were spent. The sacrifices that Emily Davison and others made
for the Suffragette movement generated a sense of community within
the movement itself, as exemplified by the large number of people
who marched in procession behind Davison’s coffin. Henri Hubert and
Marcel Mauss argued that there can be no sacrifice without a com-
munity.6 The effect of Davison’s sacrifice on the national community
was to reveal its narrowness and limitations and thus articulate the
absolute necessity of reimagining it in more open ways. In Jean-Luc
Nancy’s terms this was to unwork  – désoeuvrer  – the community.7
The Chosen One’s sacrifice in Sacre had a similar effect. What was so
shocking about her sacrifice was its modernist lack of sentiment. As
Isabelle Launay proposes, what Sacre presents is neither a heroic sac-
rifice nor a redemptive Christian one. “Le sacrifice de ce corps articu-
laire atteint les limites de sa représentation pour laisser apparaître un

3 Esposito, Bios, p. 55.

4 Ibid., p. 116.
5 Ibid.
6 Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice,”
Année sociologique, 2 (1899): pp. 29–138.
7 Jean-Luc Nancy, La Communauté désoeuvrée, (Paris, Christian Bourgois, 1986).


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nouveau corps”.8 The avant-garde nature of the Chosen One’s final
sacrificial solo unworks ballet as a theatrical form in order to suggest
new creative potentials for women as professional dancers performing
in theatres.
If it is through sacrifice that this unworking – désoeuvrement – of
national community and theatrical representation is achieved, this
nevertheless comes at a terrible cost. The appalling treatment of the
imprisoned Suffragettes and the devastating spectacle of the Chosen
One’s solo had the effect of making visible some of the destructive
effects of biopolitics. Both circumstances drew attention to what
Giorgio Agamben calls nuda vita – bare or naked life.9 They revealed
this quality which distinguishes human life from animal existence
by presenting the terrible spectacle of the denial and removal of this
human quality. Sometimes one only recognises the meaning or value
of something when one is in danger of losing it. This is what Piltz and
the militants, through their extreme performances, put so forcefully
before the public. Paradoxically, I suggest, the powerful way in which
they each confronted the negativity of their situations opened up
possibilities for transformation. Each revealed a potential for change.
Underlying the tensions between the State’s destructive policies and
the affirmative biopolitics envisaged by Piltz and the Suffragettes are
questions about immunity, sacrifice and bare or naked life that are the
subject of the historical readings offered in this essay.

Suffragettes and sacrifice

The Women’s Social and Political Union (the WSPU) was founded in
Manchester in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, the widow of a promi-
nent Independent Labour Party activist and lawyer. The WSPU broke
away from the approach of older Suffragist organisations, believing
that militant actions were the only way to force politicians to give votes
to women. Between 1905 and 1914, the WSPU campaigned against
the Liberals (who as a party were opposed to giving votes to women)
at two general elections and intervening bye-elections, and heckled
Liberal politicians at public meetings. They called temporary truces

8 Isabelle Launay, “Communauté et articulation : à propos du Sacre du printemps

du Nijinski” in Claire Rousier ed. Être ensemble: Figures de la communauté en danse
depuis le XXe siècle (Pantin: Centre national de la danse, 2003), p. 84. [The sacrifice
of this articulate body pushes to the limits of representation so as to allow a new
body to appear, my translation.]
9 Girogio Agamben, Homo Sacer, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).


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from militant actions while Parliament considered the three all-party
Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bills  – the so-called conciliation
bills  – in 1910, 1911, and 1912, but renewed their campaign again
with increasing violence when each of these failed or was dropped.
Thus in 1905 Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were arrested
for insisting on asking questions during a liberal rally at Manchester’s
Free Trade Hall. By 1912 after the failure of the third conciliation bill,
WSPU actions included a mass smashing of fashionable shop windows
in London’s West End.
The Suffragette were often fashionably dressed and their newspaper
Votes for Women contained adverts from the very shops whose
windows they smashed. Katrina Rolley has pointed out that the
WSPU leadership deliberately set out to manage the kinds of images
of themselves that appeared in the mainstream press, anticipating the
more recent use of image consultants by political parties. Aware of the
dangers of being stereotyped as ugly blue-stockings or unmanageable
old spinsters, the WSPU deliberately distributed photographs portraying
its prominent members as fashionably feminine. They even issued
instructions concerning what to wear for some events. As evidence
of the effectiveness of this strategy Rolley compares a Punch cartoon
from January 1906 that depicts a militant Suffragette as a gaunt, ugly
violent old woman, with one from 1909 which reads: “I say, that lady
over there looks rather out of it” “Yes, you see most of us have been
to prison two or three times but she, poor dear, has only been bound
over”.10 In this, Suffragettes are depicted as attractive and fashionably
dressed. Underlying this recognition of the power of public images
was the idea that women’s bodily experience was not an expression
of a fixed interior essence but was a social construction that could
potentially be used in ways that subverted normative expectations.
In the early stages of their campaign, many Suffragettes were ini-
tially arrested for comparatively minor offences, but refused to pay
fines or be bound over to keep the peace and were thus sent to prison.
Once there, they were rarely granted the status of political prisoner
and placed in the First Division as, for example, the Irish nationalist
political leader, Charles Stewart Parnell had been. Marion Dunlop, a
Scottish artist, was the first Suffragette prisoner in June 1909 to go
on hunger strike when her request for First Division privileges was
denied. After refusing food for ninety-one hours, she was released,
thus inspiring a number of other suffragettes to follow her example. In
September that year, the Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone ordered

10 Cited in Katrina Rolley, ‘Fashion, femininity and the fight for the vote’, Art
History 13(1) (March 1990), p. 64.


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that hunger-striking suffragettes should henceforth be force-fed. Mary
Leigh, one of the first prisoners to be force-fed, took civil proceed-
ings against the Home Secretary, the Governor and prison doctor of
Birmingham’s Winson Green Prison. Her prosecution, however, was
unsuccessful, the jury “upholding the defence’s claim that forcible
feeding had been necessary to preserve life and that minimum force
had been used”.11 During one of her many incarcerations, Emmeline
Pankhurst is reported to have refused to allow a prison medical officer
to examine her because, she said, he wasn’t approaching her as a doc-
tor approaches a patient but merely in order to assess how long she
was likely to stay alive. In these instances the state of Pankhurst and
Leigh’s health – assessed in medico-legal terms – seems to have taken
priority over and in effect nullified any other rights or freedoms these
women might have wished to claim.
The publicity Lady Constance Lytton’s treatment attracted in 1910,
generated considerable public concern. Constance Lytton (1869–1923)
was from a prominent and well-connected Tory family. Her brother-
in-law Lord Balfour had been Prime Minister 1902–05 and her brother
was a Tory Peer. When she was first imprisoned, her class and iden-
tity were recognised and she was accorded First Division privileges.
Although she had a weak heart, she was determined to be imprisoned
again and go on hunger strike. To do this she assumed the fictitious
identity of Jane Warton and disguised herself as someone of lower
social status. The clearest account of this is in a letter by Constance
Lytton’s sister Betty Balfour. To disguise herself she changed both her
clothes and her hair-style:

[She] had her hair cut and plastered down like Deborah [who I assume was
a family servant]. She told her hairdresser a long yarn about going on a
journey and hating the dust, and asked him if he could bleach it. Then she
bought some pince-nez, and specs to put in her pocket. […] This, combined
with an 8/6d serge coat and an awful hat, made her look such a guy that all
the boys in the street hooted at her, which she found a real trial.12

Disguised like this she went to Liverpool and joined a demonstration.

She was arrested, she said, for throwing a single stone and duly
imprisoned. She was force-fed eight times without, she claimed, any

11 Michelle Myall, ‘Leigh , Mary (b. 1885, d. in or after 1965)’, Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [
view/article/56240, accessed 18 May 2010].
12 Lady Constance Lytton, Lady Constance Lytton, Letters selected and arranged by
Betty Balfour (London, Heinemann, 1925), p. 189.


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prior medical examination. When her true identity was discovered,
she was released in a severely debilitated state. Her brother wrote
to the Home Office questioning his sister’s treatment, and when he
was not satisfied with the Prison Commissioners’ report, published
his criticisms in a letter to The Times. He then went on to chair the
all-party “conciliation committee” that drafted the first Parliamentary
Franchise (Women) Bill in 1910. In 1912 she suffered a stroke and for
the rest of her life was paralysed on the right-hand side of her body.
What she achieved was publicity. She challenged the myth that the
prison authorities were force-feeding the Suffragettes for their own good.
She steadily lost weight over the period during which the eight forced
feedings were inflicted on her. As she pointed out, on each occasion
they forced so much food down her throat that she involuntarily
vomited it all back up. Since the forced feedings were doing nothing
to improve her well-being, she argued, their purpose could only be
understood as punitive. This is one of many examples of the way the
Suffragettes and the State had become locked into an escalating cycle
in which increasingly destructive, or self-destructive acts of protest
activated the self-attacking autoimmune processes Esposito describes.
Citizens could now find themselves not only deprived of their civil
liberties but in some circumstances not even allowed control over their
own bodies.
Giorgio Agamben has argued that the modern state can only function
properly by declaring a state of emergency – or state of exception –
and suspending individual human rights. Under a semi-permanent
state of exception, the law no longer derives its legitimacy from the
people as sovereign, because, as the conservative political philosopher
Carl Schmitt defines sovereignty, the sovereign is he who decides the
state of exception. The implications of this, Agamben proposes, are
that without rights, citizens can be stripped of their legal status and
reduced, as he puts it, to the condition of bare or naked life (nuda
vita).13 This is in effect what happened to the hunger strikers. Agam-
ben argues that politics must be redefined so that it is no longer about
the exercise of the kind of sovereignty that Schmidt theorised but
should instead be about valuing the potentiality of the body. Agamben
poses the question: what form of life is liveable? Ensuring that people
can have liveable lives is a political matter. For Constance Lytton, this
involved solidarity across class barriers with fellow Suffragettes. A life
of privilege under the status quo was not for her a liveable life. The
disturbing nature of the Suffragettes’ protests drew attention towards

13 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, (Chicago, Chicago University Press,



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the unjustifiable way in which women were being denied liveable lives
at the beginning of the twentieth century and reduced to bare or naked
The 21-year-old Rebecca West, at the start of her career as a journal-
ist, wrote an angry article for The Clarion, a weekly socialist newspa-
per, inspired by her attendance at the funeral of Emily Davison. West
describes Davison as someone who: “delighted by the world which her
fine wits and her moral passion had revealed to her could not rest till you
had seen it too”.14 Noting Davison’s academic achievements – she gained
honours in degrees at both Oxford and the University of London – West
remembers her “cheerfulness and her pyrotechnic intelligence blazing
the brighter through a body worn thin by pain.”15 Noting that Davison
had been imprisoned eight times, West laments the price Davison paid
“for wearing a fine character in a mean world.”16 Davison’s life, she
writes, was a tragedy “which we ought not to have permitted”, and, in
an astonishing passage, points the finger of blame at the whole institution
of government which she compares with Jack the Ripper and accuses of
taking a sick pleasure in violence against women.

Today Jack the Ripper works free-handed from the honourable places of
government: he sits on the Front Bench at St Stephen’s or in those vast
public sepulchres of conscience in Whitehall, and works not in secret but
through Home Office orders and scarlet-robed judges. Scotland Yard is at his
service; the medical profession, up to the President of the Royal College of
Surgeons, places its skills at his disposal, that his mutilations may be more
ingenious. And for his victims he no longer seeks the shameful women of
mean streets. To him, before the dull eyes of the unprotesting world, fall the
finest women of the land.17

What is remarkable about this is West’s recognition of the modern

way that the individual parts of government work together. Her anger
makes her demonise those involved, but what West and Hannah Arendt
both recognised was the way the smooth and efficient functioning of the
modern state can dehumanise bodies and turn them into bare or naked
life. Piltz’s final solo in Sacre staged a similar reduction. At the same
time, the radical nature of the performances of activists like Davison
and avant-garde dancers like Piltz embodied an alternative, utopian

14 Rebecca West, The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West 1911–17,

(Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1982), p. 178.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid., p. 179.
17 Ibid., p. 183.


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ideal of citizenship through imagining possibilities for a performative
space in which freedom could appear. These actions therefore reveal a
moment where a reduction to bare or naked life opens up an alternative
space in which to act with freedom.

Sacre and sacrifice

Dance historians attribute the initial idea for Sacre to the composer Igor
Stravinsky or to Nicholai Roehrich the painter who designed its set
and costumes. The ballet is generally seen as a collaboration between
the two of them which Nijinsky then choreographed. Nijinsky initially
worked closely with his sister Bronislava Nijinska, who subsequently
became an important choreographer. Diaghilev hired Marie Rambert,
a teacher at Jaques-Dalcroze’s Hellerau school to dance in the ballet
and assist Nijinsky. She helped the dancers learn the complex irregular
rhythms of Stravinsky’s music. Subsequently settling in London, she
founded her influential company Ballet Rambert in the late 1920s.
Nijinsky created Sacre’s sacrificial solo with Nijinska and then used it as
a stylistic template for the rest of the choreography. This solo required
all the clarity and precision that is at the heart of good ballet dancing
while fragmenting and deconstructing its forms and conventions to
reveal previously unknown potentials for creating emotional intensity.
Both Rambert and Nijinska record in their memoirs Nijinsky’s furious
reaction when he learnt of his sister’s pregnancy and realised she
would not be able to dance the role of the Chosen One in his ballet.
This role was taken over by the promising young but largely unknown
ballerina Maria Piltz. Nijinska and Rambert in their autobiographies,
and Piltz in interviews with the ballet historian Vera Krasovskaya all
attested to Sacre’s importance at a time when Nijinsky’s choreography
had been dismissed as an idiotic failure.
Dance Historian Tim Scholl notes similarities between Sacre’s story
and two other ballets that stage death scenes: the 1841 Romantic ballet
Giselle and Anna Pavlova’s famous 1905 solo The Dying Swan. He argues
that whereas these sentimentalised death in a romantic way, Sacre’s
fragmented choreography disrupted the ballet tradition and “dealt an
anarchic death blow to the nineteenth-century academic ballet”.18
Scholl explores correlations between the ballet’s anarchic theme and
similar concerns in early twentieth-century Russian literature. In terms
of gender representation, a ballet devised by men about the sacrifice

18 Tim Scholl, From Petipa to Balanchine: Classical Revival and the Modernization
of Ballet, (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 77.


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of a young virgin doesn’t seem to present the kinds of ideas about
femininity that would inspire the important and influential women
who have been responsible for preserving its memory. The ballet
should not only be analysed in relation to the meanings that it signified
for male audiences, but also for the ways in which it provided a vehicle
for mediating women’s experiences of modernity. Nijinska, Piltz, and
Rambert all spoke of the importance of Sacre’s choreography. Nijinska
remembered that “the exciting rhythms of Stravinsky’s music and the
precision of rendering these rhythms were challenging. I was inspired
by the innovations in the music and in the choreography”.19
Unlike their Parisian counterparts, Sacre’s London audiences were
mostly appreciative. Thus, for example, Adolphe Julien wrote in the
Journal des débats that the ballet mocked the public, dismissing both
Stravinsky’s bizarre music and Nijinsky’s monotonous, insignificant,
pretentious choreography.20 In contrast, Richard Capell in The Daily
Mail wittily suggested that the ballet’s appeal, ”is allied to recent
manifestations in the other arts, and may perhaps be called ‘cub-
ist dancing’ according to a recent definition  – “twenty-four dances
danced by twenty-four dancers to twenty-four different tunes played
The Times critic appreciated “the employment of rhythmic counter-
point in the choral movements” giving as an example the end of the
first scene “where figures in scarlet run wildly round the stage in a
great circle while the shaking masses within are ceaselessly splitting
up into tiny groups revolving on eccentric axes”.22 Many of the critics
in the London papers disliked Sacre. Richard Capell called it “Cannibal
Island Dancing” while The Standard called the choreography “anti-cur-
vilinear” complaining that “The subject -- primitive man -- is ugly, and
his movements are ugly as the ugliest duckling”:23 this was probably a

19 Bronislava Nijinska, Early Memoirs, (London & Boston, Faber and Faber, 1982),
p. 450.
20 Adolphe Julien, “Théâtre”, Journal des débats, June 8, 1913, pp. 1–2. “Le plus
fâcheux, dans le Sacre du Printemps, n’est pas qu’il ait composé en scenario et
réglé une chorégraphie d’une pauvreté désespérante, c’est que cette monotonie et
cette insignifiance si prétentieuse, aient entrainé M. Stravinsky à vouloir lutter de
bizarrerie avec son collaborateur.“
21 Richard Capell, “Cannibal music: Amazing production of Russian Ballet,” The
Daily Mail, July 12, 1913, p. 5.
22 “The fusion of music and dancing: ‘Le sacre du printemps’,” The Times, July 26,
1913, p. 8.
23 Cited in Macdonald, Nesta, Diaghilev Observed by Critics in London and the
United States 1911–1929, (New York: Dance Horizons and London: Dance Books,
1975), p. 97.


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complicated allusion to the more conventionally beautiful Swan Lake
or to Pavlova’s famous solo, the Dying Swan. The Daily Telegraph com-
plained that “all this primordial, logical business revealed no beauty,
save momentarily when […] Miss Piltz danced amazingly”.24
Many of the British critics reviewing the ballet admired the inten-
sity with which Piltz performed its difficult, modernist dance move-
ments, and yet there is a hint in the way they did so that suggests they
thought she went a little too far. Their anxiety seems to have been
inspired both by the feminine freedom which Piltz’s solo signified and
by the modernism of its choreography. There is a parallel here with
the Suffragette campaign. Writing in 1912 in the suffragette newspaper
Votes for Women, Teresa Billington Grieg summed up the attitude of a
large part of the general public towards the militant suffragettes: “they
admire the agitator, they resent the wrong against which she agitates;
but they condemn the methods of agitation”.25 Anxiety about Piltz’s
solo surfaced in an item in The Daily Telegraph which stated that she
had been forbidden by the medical profession from dancing the solo
again “owing to the detrimental effect it had upon her, the physical
strain being overwhelming”.26 We have already noted the role doc-
tors played in the force-feedings. The cause of Piltz’s supposed strain
seems to be the fragmented nature of the choreography, its unnatural,
modern quality. What is useful here is the way contemporary criticism
implicitly connects modernist dancing with the experience of modern
life. Nijinska and Rambert in their memoirs, and Piltz in her interviews
with Vera Krasovskaya, all attest to their continuing fascination with
the very qualities in Nijinsky’s modernist choreography that many
contemporary critics found unacceptable. While these critics feared
change, the dancers eagerly embraced it. Sacre offered these women
opportunities to explore, through dancing, a continual process of cre-
ative re-invention at a time when the world around them was changing
Vera Krasovskaya recounts what Piltz remembered about the
tumultuous first performance concluding, in a poignant passage, with
the moment when Diaghilev pushed her on stage to take her curtain
call. Piltz, she writes:

24 “Russian Ballet. ‘Le Sacre de Printemps’,” The Daily Telegraph, July 12, 1913,
25 Teresa Billington-Grieg, “Suffragist Tactics Past and Present” [1912], Marie
Roberts and Tamae Mizuta eds. Perspectives On The History Of British Feminism.
The Militants: Suffragette Activism, (London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 1–14.
26 “The Russian ballet”, The Daily Telegraph July 26, 1913, n.p.


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mechanically assumed her pose of the victim ready for sacrifice, and stood
amidst the thunder of applause and shouts of protest descending upon her
from the auditorium. She did not move, standing just like an idol hewn
from wood. Except that the tears flowed, making furrows in the greasepaint
on her face. Fifty years later in Leningrad, in a room on Ligovsky Prospect
which looked onto a rather gloomy courtyard, an old lady stricken with
paralysis maintained a long and persistent silence, until she pronounced:
“Sergei Pavlovich pushed me onto the stage. I stood in the middle and just

Here Krasovskaya shares with her readers these two women’s

mutual recognition of the magnitude of the event. Nijinska believed
that Sacre marked “the beginnings of a new era for the ballet and
for choreography”.28 What Krasovskaya identifies is the experience
of being in the absolute centre of this turbulent flux. Her passage
witnesses the overwhelming emotions Piltz experienced as she found
herself as the figure at the heart of this dynamic shift when something
new and unknown was beginning to appear.
I noted earlier that the Chosen One’s solo was choreographed first
and then used as a template or movement archive while making the rest
of the ballet. As Isabelle Launay points out, when this solo was finally
performed, everything in it was already familiar as the movements of
the community. The Chosen One’s act of sacrifice was therefore one
of selflessly embodying the gestures of others, giving her life to them
and by doing so, according to Hubert and Mauss, acquiring sacred
value. The same thing happened when she took her bow. She resumed
her pose as the victim ready for sacrifice in order to become the focus
for the conflicting hopes and fears that the ballet had stirred up in
the audience. Similarly Davison’s gift became the focus for conflicting
hopes and fears about women’s enfranchisement. By donating herself
as a sacred gift, Davison was reasserting her humanness – a quality that
had been taken away from her by the State as it reduced her, through
forced-feeding, to bare or naked life. Davison and Piltz’s sacrifices
transformed a munos that had been a compulsory deduction into a
freely given gift that was in excess of what the State had demanded. By
doing so, their radical actions unworked their communities and created
potentials in them for something new and unknown to appear.

27 Vera Krasovskaya Nijinsky, (New York: Schirmer Books, 1979), p. 267.

28 Nijinska, Early Memoirs, p. 471.


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Isabell Lorey

Politics of Immunization and the Precarious Life

Politics of Immunization exist in a constitutive relation to the precari-

ous life, and they also inhabit a constitutive relation to threats such
as epidemics, infections, or insurrections. There are three figures into
which the politics of immunization can be condensed: two figures of
the immune that confirm domination, which I have called juridical
immunity and biopolitical immunization, as well as the subversive
figure of the immune, constituent immunization.1
By putting the focus on the relationality of domination and
precariousness I assume that each form of domination attempts to
minimize or completely avoid its own and ultimately inevitable threats
and to reach an, albeit never complete, invulnerability. Relations of
power and domination contain their own failures to diverse extents.
There is always something that escapes them. This is their threat.
On the side of domination figures of the immune require not merely
the construction of a threatening Other; they are also faced with the
presence of the dangerous many. The complementary pole of domi-
nation that is associated with danger, threat, and fear has ever since
Antiquity been insurrection and revolt, the contact and association of
the many that can no longer be controlled by those in power and may
lead to threats to order, to disorder and chaos.

Munus and communitas

In order to unfold the diverse figures of the immune, a short history of

the concepts they are involved (in) is required. When I speak of politi-
cal immunization, I don’t take recourse first and foremost to the medi-
cal term to immunize from the nineteenth century, which signifies “to
make immune against the causes of a disease by inoculation”. More
productive is the genealogy of the political and juridical meanings of
immunity. It leads back to the Latin term immunitas, which origi-
nally meant exemption from charges, taxation, obligation: from dues
or give-aways [Abgaben]. At the end of Roman Antiquity this freedom
from obligation, from give-aways developed towards a legal protection

1 Isabell Lorey, Figuren des Immunen. Elemente einer politischen Theorie (Zürich:
Diaphanes, 2011). More figures of the immune can be conceptualized.


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against persecution.2 Thus, most of the key terms have been named
according to which political immunization unfolds: dues [Abgabe] and
protection [Schutz]. The two lines of meaning of give-away and protec-
tion can be traced back to the Roman use of the word munus that is
contained in immunitas. The Latin munus does not only mean ‘dues’
or ‘duty’, but in a second line of meaning that shows in the verb munio
also ‘to defend’, ‘secure’, ‘protect’.3
Munus in its ambivalent meaning of dues and protection is not
merely a part of the word immunitas, but also of communitas. Hence
munus keeps community as well as immunity together, so to speak,
for only via its complementary concept of communitas does immu­
nitas make sense.4 This means that political immunization with the
aim of confirming domination always implies a specific conception of
community, and this is why the notion of community requires some
specification before I can address the figures of the immune.
Starting from munus, communitas also branches out into a line
of protection and one of obligation. Within such a differentiation
two extreme perspectives of current debates about community can
be glimpsed, two poles that are not so much mutually exclusive as
constitutive of each other. Put bluntly, one of these extreme perspectives
views community as union and identity, as unification. An example
of this is Ferdinand Tönnies’ conception of patriarchal community
that safeguards the rule of the protective father.5 Important for such
a community are precise demarcations towards an outside, which
protect and retain one’s own and property through belonging: wife
and children, servants, one’s home, land, and cattle. This conception
of community can be traced back via the noun communio to the Latin

2 See Dietmar Willoweit, “Immunität”, Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsge­

schichte, ed. Adalbert Erler and Ekkehard Kaufmann, vol. 2 (Berlin: Erich Schmidt,
1978), pp. 312–330; Willibald M. Plöchl, Geschichte des Kirchenrechts, vol. 1: Das
Recht des ersten christlichen Jahrtausends. Von der Urkirche bis zum großen Schisma
(Wien, München: Herold, 1953), pp. 171–173 and pp. 343–344; parliamentary immu-
nity finds its initiations in the English parliamentarianism in the 17th Century.
3 This double meaning goes back to Varro ling. 5, 179 (Varro, De lingua Latina,
libri 5); see also the definition of the noun moenia in Paulus Diaconus’ excerpt of
Sextus Pompeius Festus: Fest. 144.
4 See also Roberto Esposito, Immunitas. The Protection and Negation of Life, trans.
Zakiya Hanafi (Cambridge: Polity Press 2011).
5 Tönnies, the founder of the German sociology, was the first who distinguished
between community and society. See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil
Society, ed. Jose Harris, trans. Margaret Hollis (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press 2001). Until today Tönnies is one of the central authors of reference concerning


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verb munio, which means fortify, protect, and secure and thus belongs
to the genealogy of meaning of protection, here fortification towards
the interior and defence against the outside.6
The second, seemingly diametrically opposed perspective sees itself
as an emancipatory conception of community that defines itself neither
primarily via in- and exclusions nor via the protection of one’s property.
In the line of meaning of dues to be paid, communitas here denotes in
a transformation of com-munis ‘sharing common give-aways, common
charges or obligations’.7 Roberto Esposito, philosopher from Naples,
has proposed an alternative conception of community based on this
perspective, one that starts from munus as give-away and not from the
protection of one’s own.8
For Esposito a community of protection as outlined for example by
Tönnies completely misses the significant aspect of communitas. For
him, its meaning lies in the fact of sharing certain dues and precisely
not in erecting walls for the protection of one’s own. Esposito stresses
the obligation to give something away, to exchange things with oth-
ers, so that living together will be possible. Munus is here understood
as a gift that one must not refuse, as an obligation, a compulsory
mutual debt, as a duty that connects. Each and every person who
gives something away exists in a basic dependency on others, since
what is given away is shared. This foundational sharing and giving
away means a dispossession according to Esposito. His communitas of
those who give away is based on an understanding of munus that is
always conceptualized negatively in relation to identity and property.
Communitas is based on a lack, a loss and a “substraction”9: munus
always also means minus.
Esposito relates the communitas of those who give away dialectically
to the (patriarchal) community of protection. His argument claims that
this community of protection is primarily focussed on self-preservation
frequently regards exchange, the close encounter and the contagion by

6 See item communio, Ausführliches Lateinisch-Deutsches Handwörterbuch, ed.

Karl Ernst Georges, vol. 1, 13th ed. (Hannover: Hahn 1972), c. 1327–1328; item
communio, Lateinisch-deutsches Wörterbuch, ed. Hans Haas and Richard von Kienle
(Heidelberg: Kerle 1952), p. 91.
7 For this connotation see Émile Benveniste, Le vocabulaire des instutitions indo-
européennes, 1. economie, parenté, société (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1969); item
munis, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine. Histoire des mots, ed. Alfred
Ernout and Antoine Meillet (Paris: Klincksieck, 1959), p. 421.
8 Roberto Esposito, Communitas. The Origin and Destiny of Community, trans.
Timothy Campbell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
9 Esposito, Communitas, p. 6.


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the Other as a threat that has to be negated and prevented. Living with
others is endangered by identity, unity and property.
This mutual negation between communitas of give-away and
community of protection can only be sublated or synthesized according
to Esposito. He looks for a new form of community10, one that neither
abandons self-protection – immunity understood in these terms – nor the
connection with the Other. Instead of defence, his goal is “immunitary
tolerance”11 of the threatening forces within the interior of the self,
the alien that cannot be expelled or rejected, but is kept alive. Life is
not endangered, but maintained in a fundamental way. This synthesis
between the communitas of give-away and the community of protection
(that he conceives as immunity, as immunitas) Esposito finds in the