Bounded-Body / Bounded Art-Objects : The Inter-relational Dynamics of Performance-premised Engagements
2. Review of important literary references to-date.
My introduction to phenomenological discourse has focused upon Continental philosophers such as René Descartes (1596-1650), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), and an in-depth study of the writing produced by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Following Husserl’s lead, Heidegger’s texts represent a decisive break from the earlier Enlightenment schools of metaphysics and empiricism, and proposed a first-person existential investigative approach to analysis. He endeavored a deconstruction of his own encounters with ‘the everyday world’, emphasizing the concreteness of our sensual and temporal existence. For example, when first introduced to hammer, he proposed that it is encountered and characterized by it’s ready-at-hand-ness, in physiological relation to ourselves,1 and not merely as an goal-orientated utilitarian nor aesthetic object. Heidegger was careful to assert that our human historicity, physiology, and thus subjective perceptions contextualize everything we encounter and thus can understand about the world; undermining attempts to ascertain an objective Truth. He proposed that we, as subjects, are encountering the contents of our environments as if intertwined with objects-in-the-world and that, in doing so, we are necessarily experiencing an inauthentic mode of Being.2 This is because, in his view, an authentic mode of Being exposes the angst of our situated-ness ‘toward-death’ and notions of expanded possibility. Nonetheless, this authentic experience also includes a revealing of the character of our Da-sein (the embodied character of our consciousness of Being-there, or our ‘is-ness’), referred to as moments of ‘becoming’. During such moments our experience of self and the world are no longer unified, objects around us are also ‘presencing’ (actualizing as fully foreign or autonomous to ourselves, and vice versa) – there has been a collapse in the subject-to-object inter-relational method of interpreting the world around us.
In regard to art-making and encounters, Heidegger was explicit in his adversity to aesthetic discourse that positioned both the subject and the object as already-presenced and autonomous from one another. He detailed his belief that meaningful experiences of art (including theatre) begin with that everydayness of our entanglements with the world of objects. According to him, our everyday experience of Da-sein did not include an autonomous sense of self, but the latter was instead provided by the ‘they-world’ within which we are immersed, and was due to an implicit experience of Care.3
2.2 Object Relations Theory.
Much of Heidegger’s above-noted proposal aligns well with insights provided by Object Relations Theory. The latter was developed by a series of psychoanalysts4 concerned with early childhood development and whom displaced attributes of Freud’s theory surrounding subconscious drives (specifically in regard to aggression and sexuality). Instead, these schools of thought emphasize the inter-relational and interdependent requirements of the human ego, and describe the way an infant may come to attach certain sensations and emotions to objects which exist outside of themselves. The ‘object’ is usually a person, but can be an animal or a thing. The subjectively felt meaning of the object depends fiercely upon the alleviation of basic physiological and emotional needs (there is no mind/body split). An infant who is not well-enough nurtured may develop fixations accordingly (whether oral otherwise), and may not develop a matured and autonomous sense of Self. It is, however, due to a necessarily extreme incapacity to recognize oneself as autonomous in relation to others (or vice versa) that promotes the formation and maintaining of interdependent relationships, which are necessary from birth for our survival. This primary function of narcissism in our ego development process explains why we are all capable of relating to other people, and to our situated circumstances, as if they were mirroring our own internal emotional worlds.
Interestingly, some analysts use the phrases ‘False-Self’ and ‘True-Self’ to describe degrees of dysfunction and function among clients.5 A functional sense of Self is thought to relate to an ability ‘to Be’ and to inter-relate in the world without posing or sensing an otherwise unwarranted threat.6 Inter- relational Psychoanalysts note the vital role of both self-differentiation (individuation processes) and empathy in our interdependent relationships for healthy development. Children who are not afforded either are seen to exhibit degrees of arrested development as adults. Likewise, an inflexibly entrenched degree of narcissism is interpreted as the suspension of infantile mechanisms. These patients are described as unable to distinguish between their own internalizations and their objectification of the world around them, so that other people, places, or things are imbued with their own fractured or split- off feelings and sensations. Theorists fusing psychoanalysis and phenomenological discourse suggest that some patients experience a dysfunction pertaining to an expansion or contraction in their sense of spatial and interpersonal boundaries.7
2.3 The Bounded-Body.
The experiential axiom that demarcates the ‘interior’ and the ‘exterior’ of oneself has also been taken up by various artists, sociologists, and anthropologists whom explore cultural rites and rituals. Such issues are most directly addressed where taboo and ‘the sacred’ have been seen to correlate with cultural conventions surrounding bodily orifices and waste. Mary Douglas (1921-2007), for example, described the way that some ritual practices appear to reflect or to emulate a culture’s relationship with their own bodily boundaries” and suggested that, in fact, one’s societal structure might be seen as a likewise correlating, but greatly expanded, bounded system.8 More specifically, she asserted that all cultures uphold concerns surrounding entries and exits of the body, and that all societies organize and order themselves around such concerns. She also suggested that we might relate to the powers and dangers comprising our societal margins and community thresholds in direct correlation with how we associate purity or danger with bodily orifices. Though our own intimate familiarity with bodily experiences and functions are commonly taken for granted, this mutual self-knowledge lingers beneath everyday life interactions. In short, Douglas suggested that bodily boundaries are re-interpreted by way of our culturally expressed relationships.
Sociologist and Performance Studies scholar Rebecca Schneider takes up this position also while discussing the poignancy of women performance artists in the late twentieth century.10 She describes efforts to deflect and undermine objectification of the female nude through ‘explicit body’ performances, and she references examples of women whose work was deemed indignantly controversial (Carolee Schneeman, Karen Finely, and Annie Sprinkle, for example). She describes this work as providing a confrontational demystification of dangerous female power,11 which had long remained in margins and at the puritanical thresholds of Western society. Like Heidegger and Inter- relational Psychoanalysts, she favours the rebellion against a Cartesian mind/body split and like Douglas, she refutes a perception that such behavior reflects an infantile or barbaric primitivity.12 Instead, she describes the body as the “first site of performativity and everyday life”13 and follows artists’ body-centric effort to make art “evident as an act”.14
Schneider links these women’s intentions to that of dissident Surrealist and Dadaist practitioners while noting that women represented an obvious blind-spot in many of their deconstructions. Ironically, it is precisely this notion of blind-spots that the earlier male practitioners took to issue, in regard to their own society’s sociopolitical and religious conventions. The writings of Surrealist George Batailles (1897-1962), in particular, demonstrate a harrowing obsession with an expansion of his own bodily boundaries, orifices, and excrement. Like his contemporaries and succesors, he attempted to spark broader cultural awareness through confrontation with taboo and challenged binary ideations of what is civilized or primitive, good or evil, art or life.15 Distinctively, however, I am proposing that Batailles’s desire for a pre-literate, emotional, and sensually confounding eruption beyond bodily containment should be seen instead as sharing in a kinship with Antonin Artaud’s desire for a Theatre Of Cruelty.
2.4 Theatrical Theory.
While Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was not quite as explicit in his references to bodily boundaries, he did refer to a ‘body without organs’.16 Artaud was very passionate about the need to expressively erupt with all those darker and destructive forces he believed resided within the human creature. He prescribed an emphasis upon sensory immersion, a rejection of literate texts and dialogues, and the employment of ‘primitive’ symbolism with the same aims of shocking life back into the meaning of art. While both the aforementioned artists made clear reference to their own traumatic struggles with mental health issues, their grappling explorations and acute insights remain clearly relevant today to a number of researchers and practitioners in diverse disciplinary fields.17 For both artists, intentional shocks or disruptions were meant to incite or evoke the passions of the visiting public, to reveal the truths hidden beneath societal pretenses and, in affect, to exercise / exorcize our more beastly (‘uncivilized’) attributes.
While Artaud never materialized his own prescriptions, many artist’s have since taken up his anti-psychological-theatre position, symbolic references, and the discarding pre-existing scripts. However, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) described the whole of Artaud’s prescriptions as representing “the limits of pure theatre”.18 Peter Brook (né 1925), whom endeavored to manifest a Theatre of Cruelty, suggested that some of Artaud’s prescriptions ignore the issue of inter-relational communications and noted that, taken as a whole, Artaud’s aims may not even be an advisable endeavor.19 Artaud’s wish to immerse spectator’s within volatile forces did not anticipate pluralities in participants’ own emotional inner landscapes, nor did it account for their own decision-making processes in context with participation. While both Bataille and Artaud’s personal healing processes may have indeed been linked to violent psycho-sensual and emotive eruptions, Brook observed reiterative shocks as cultivating circumstances wherein the engaging public was desensitized instead. Notably, he warned of the potential for apathy.20
While these attributes of Artaud’s vision contrasted with the emotional journeying and communicative aims of various successors, the affective potentials surrounding one or another sort of experiential disruption has continued to garner intrigue. Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), for example, is still regularly referenced in regard to his description of an Alienation Technique which was intended to disrupt an audience’s familiarity with theatrical conventions of his time, and specifically to the construction of The Fourth Wall. Crafted so as to confront and undermine audiences with their own tendency toward empathy, Brecht directed performers to flatten out their character portrayals so as to become symbolic significations of human behavior and interactions.21 He also employed use of film projections and staged opportunities to address audience members directly through both music and speach. These prescriptions reflected Brecht’s desire to elucidate (among audience members) intellectual processes and reactionary emotions.22 It is notable herein that creating opportunities for alienation relies upon the practitioner’s awareness of conventional conditioning, and that a supposed breaking of the theoretical wall is correlated with psychological interpretation and reflexivity.
2.5 The Performative.
John L. Austin (1911-1960) spoke of the importance of mutual cultural references or contextualizing conditions in regard to the success of performative speach acts in his book, How To Do Things With Words (1975). For example, he noted that in order for matrimonial or judicial pronouncements to be successful, the participants must grant this particular authority to the person making the pronunciation. His examples also demonstrate the role that a toward-belief disposition plays in the process of performative instantiations. Austin referred to successful performances as ‘happy’ ones,30 where what is spoken is simultaneously intended and understood as an act (action). The philosopher noted the need to distinguish between that which we do (illocutionary speech act) and it’s performative consequences (perlocutionary acts). This may be further investigated in relation to a performer or artwork’s performative intent and a visitor’s performative experience.31 The author also noted that there are instances when performative speach acts depend moreso upon behavior than the formulation of comprehensive words.32 I am still in the process of understanding what links there may be between Austin’s descriptions, performative experiences associated to what anthropologists call ‘primary orality’, 33 and Artaud’s prescriptive call for onomatopoeia or glossolalia.34
Philosopher Judith Butler (né 1956) also draws attention to issues surrounding conventional conditioning but in context with more mundane experiences of performativity. The author wrote an essay23 reviewing a difference of viewpoints regarding the agency and identity of social agents while referencing prominent phenomenological philosophers (Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, George Herber Mead, for example). In this text, she pointed specifically to a view of female social agents as subjects which are seen to constitute social reality, and a view where social agents are seen as an object of constitutive acts. Butler defers to Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that one is not born a woman, but rather ‘becomes a woman’, while describing what comprises a constitutive social temporality.24 The latter more performative-natured process, she proposes, contradicts popular belief in gender as a stable identity.25 She posits that Woman as an identity, and in sociological context, is a performative accomplishment that is constituted by repetitively stylized behaviors and acts. In this way gender is not only an identity, but an object of belief compelled by social sanctions and taboos.26 In relation to my thesis interests, the text offers exemplification of performativity as everyday life phenomena that is successfully constituted through holistic inter-relational contexts.
Trans-disciplinary scholar Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) is well known for his book, The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), which offers a situated and performative style of writing that traces citizen subversion, circumvention, and engagement within urban environments. As with Butler’s essay, the content embraces a phenomenological interpretation of the invisibility and blindness of the mundane, which both conceal and reveal the conditions of social life (his analysis is particularly Heideggerian). de Certeau inquired into the anthropological, poetic, and mythic experience of space which perpetually defines the character of that place / neighborhood / city. While doing so he refuted the accuracy, and the relevancy, of geographical functional analysis which do not account for meanings, associative concepts, and identities, nor adequately understand the city’s “waste products” (abnormalities, deviance, illness, death, etc).27 He also applies a socio-linguistic analysis, interpreting pedestrian actions as equivalent to speach acts. He therein describes the rhetorics of walking, the mythical character of place-identities, and the active role of memory in spatial practices. Notably, de Certeau also employed the interlocutory theory, proposed by J.L. Austin, to the character and affective qualities of such stories.28 In this way, the author explained how embodied narratives can organize walks, journey destinations, and local cultural attitudes. The text provides analogies surrounding the legitimization of space, the marking out of boundaries and frontiers, as well as bridging and bridges in regard to topological operations and the ‘metaphorai’ of limits in general.29 This book is a rich resource and excellent example of providing a near phenomenological analysis, without adopting the strict analytic approach. The content also offers everyday examples of experiential alterity, that which support the aims of many performative art practices (festivals, happenings, protest art, reclamation projects, walking tours, etc.).
[… truncated …]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.