This Body is in Danger! Shift-shaping CorpoRealities in Contemporary Performing Arts
Editors: Aneta Stojnić, Christel Stalpaert and Marina Gržinić
Changing corporealities in the light of:
1. Necropolitics – from Foucault through Agamben to Mbembe
2. Technologies – pop-up bodies in the desert of the real
3. Activism – from performing protest to cultivating ethics in a diplomacy of dissensus
4. EthicoAesthetics – from moralism to decolonial aesthetics
One of the hallmarks of the 20th century is what we could call a corporeal turn, that focussed the attention of political and theoretical considerations on the body, on corporeality and embodiment. Foucault articulated the notions of biopower and biopolitics as modes of governmentality. In the field of artistic practice, new forms appeared such as performance art and body art. Sided by philosophical studies on the embodied mind (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999), “archives of the flesh” (Irigaray, 1984) and neurological findings on embodied cognition (as proposed by Damasio), dance studies boomed exponentially.
The term corporeality was coined by Susan Leigh Foster (1996) as “the study of bodies through a consideration of bodily reality, not as natural or absolute given but as a tangible and substantial category of cultural experience”. Embodiment, understood as manifestations and representations of the body and the corporeal, as socio-cultural, political, psychological, physiological and virtual entities, became one of the key notions related to research in performance and performativity, particularly in the feminist, gender and queer theories. In Bodies that Matter, Judith Butler (1993) emphasized the key concept of performativity as related to gender, together with a re-articulation of the relations between the culture and the nature.
In parallel with the rise of an increased concern over the body, the topics of post-humanism as critique of humanism and anthropocentrism emerged. The term anthropomorphism (Shaun May) suggests that there is not a singular line dividing the human from the non-human, but that there exists a vast spectrum of forms in between.
Digital technologies brought the crucial shifts and changes in contemporary understandings of the body from the natural, over the cultural to the technological body, where the human body is understood not as a complete entity, but as always already being expended and being extendable.
In her 1984 Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway already introduced in a cyborg entity that deconstructed the binary relations between object and subject, nature and culture, being and non-being, organism and machine, male and female, the possibility and impossibility of controlling (one’s own) body. Cyborgs, conceived as liminal beings that don’t strive towards stable essentialized identities, disturbingly destabilize the usual understanding of the concept of “the human body.”
At the beginning of the 21st century, Žižek “welcomed” this body in the desert of the real, indicating a paradigm shift in our corporeal engagement with ‘the real’. Borrowing the metaphor of the “desert of real” from the Matrix movie, he argued that the Western (and we could say the globalized) society experiences a “return of the Real” in exactly the same way as Neo did in the film, i.e. as a nightmarish virtual landscape or as a “reality as the ultimate ‘effect.'” (Žižek, 2002)
What we can designate as a common line in various aspects and approaches to the theorization of the body is the focus on tensions created in its distinct relations with the changing social and political realities in terms of politics, ethics and ethico-aesthetics.
At the end of the previous century, three important elements reconfigured body politics:
a) The first considers the influence of new media technologies and the adventure of cyberspace that completely dismantled the question of the materiality of the body as being fixed in a space-time continuum. The topic of humanity and humanism was brought to the turning point where we can talk about post-humanity and post-humans, while not dispensing with race, class and gender.
b) The second reconfiguration brought the concept of death in relation to the colonial matrix of power, which opened the territory of necropolitics as brutal radicalization of biopolitics.
c) The third reconfiguration refers to the historicity of the performative that opened up new possibilities for the ethical and the aesthetic.
This book intends to address these shape-shifting corporealities in contemporary performance. We intend to investigate how contemporary artistic practices engage with the new ways in which political, technological and ethical intersect with the body. Some of the questions we intend to discuss include (and are not limited to):
What are the new politics of the body in the 21st century?
How does the body, in its shapeshifting appearances within contemporary performances, remain a vessel for identity formation, critical moves and dissensus?
How do shapeshifting posthuman and transhuman bodies relate to the current changes in social, technological, political and ecological realities?
Does a body brought to the level of bare life – the embodied subject of necropolitics – become THE pop-up body in a desert of the real?
Is the performer or activist body in danger? How does the blurring distinction between art and life add to new forms of activism?
What is the place of technology in these processes?
How does it create a (dis)ruption of the real in terms of corporeality?
How are notions of presence and representation changed in cyberspace, where both the space-time paradigm and one subject – one body paradigm are broken?
What happens to the subjectivity of the performer in the digital era, in the situation where the performer becomes the final instance in the global network structure of cyberspace?
How does it engage directly and precisely with the questions of sexual reproduction, labor and how does it specifically challenge issues of representation, the performativity of sex and gender?
How to open up new possibilities in relation to the questions of politics and the political subject in global capitalism today?
What is the changing role of the artist and the artwork in the neoliberal conditions of “post-ideology” and “post-politics” ?
What are the models, urgencies and possibilities of a struggle for the re-politicization of the field of art that would allow us to imagine differential futures?
How are these newly established relations, protocols and procedures to be used in performance (artistic) practices, that affirm critical thinking in postdramatic theatre, conceptual dance and /or performance art?
THEMES AND TOPICS
1. Necropolitics – from Foucault through Agamben to Mbembe
For contemporary subjects of biopolitics and necropolitics, the body becomes the locus and symptom of an (embodied) social trauma. In the last decade, life, its modes and the social and political space of global capitalism have been managed and organized by the logic of death. In “Necropolitics” (2003), Achille Mbembe discusses this new logic of the capital and its processes of geopolitical demarcation of world zones based on the mobilization of the war machine. Mbembe claims that the concept of biopolitics – one of the major logics of contemporary societies, due to the war machine and the state of exception – should be replaced with necropolitics. Biopolitics is for that matter the horizon for articulating contemporary capitalist societies from the so-called politics of life, where life (which does not matter anymore, following Giorgio Agamben, if it’s bare/naked life or life-with-forms) is seen as the zero degree of intervention of each and every politics into contemporary societies; but today, capital’s surplus value is based on the capitalization of death (in Latin: necro) worlds.
2. Technologies – Pop-up bodies in the desert of the real
The notion of the body is going through a major transformation, moving from an anthropocentric to a anthropomorphist one. Digital technologies brought the crucial shifts and changes in contemporary understanding of the body from the natural over the cultural to the technological body. These shifts produced and keep on producing unstable changes in the architecture of reality, indicating the influence of the real over reality.
This also had a grip on gender studies. As Beatrice Preciado (2013) writes, “gender” assumes that the configuration of a subject’s sex can be influenced by means of various interventions such as surgery, hormonal and psychological therapy. She introduced the word “technogender” to replace the concepts of sex and gender because bodies can no longer be isolated from the social forces of sexual difference.
In relation to above mentioned concepts we shall address the particular bodies that are ‘in danger’ or ‘endangered’ and the diverse ways they pop up in performance contexts, including specific performativity of pop-up bodies (Stalpaert) in digital constellations, where both the “space-time paradigm” (Grzinic) and “one subject – one body paradigm” (Žižek, 1997) are broken.
We particularly welcome contributions on how these bodies might pop up and create dissensus in a “police” corporeal constellation, i.e. appear as political bodies and embodied different realities.
3. Activism – from performing protest to cultivating a diplomacy of dissensus
In the twenty-first century, a new ethical aesthetic is developed with regard to performing protest and activism. Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) proclaims the end of corporeal agency as targeted action, for our capacity to act is embedded in a network consisting of human and nonhuman agents and actants. This posthuman thought creates a new perspective on how nature and society operate and considers bodies from within a complex collective or community, incorporating humans and non-humans. This entangling mesh of interdependent beings, of a coexistence with other life forms is the ground and also the object of contemporary art in relation to protest and activism. In this complex collectivity artists, might take up the role of artivists or act as what Latour calls artists as “diplomats”. Artivism concerns the radical practices where art and politics merge and overlap (Milohnic, 2005) and art becomes (one of the possible) means in political struggle. Artivist practice is based in joining socio-political activism with cultural and artistic performance. The line between art and politics (as well as between “art” and “life”) is blurred and crossed as needed. This often means that artistic practice explicitly and unambiguously equals political practice, where the relation between art and politics is rearticulated in terms of art as politics (Rancière).
On the other hand, “diplomat artists”, rather than conveying a clear message or communicating their social, political or ecological aims in order to take direct action, they seem to perform the labour of a diplomat, asserting several claims (Stalpaert 2014). These artists do not perform protest, they desire, as a performer-diplomat, to leave “the question of the number of the collective open, a question that, without him, everyone would have a tendency to simplify somewhat” (Latour 2004). The artist-as-diplomat for that matter does not try to convince people of a Truth; he rather provides space to disagree, or, to put it in Jacques Rancière’s words, for “dissensus” (Rancière, 2004). Following Rancière, the introduction of a third thing, owned by no one, is a way of dismantling the mechanism of equivalences and oppositions.
4. Ethico-aesthetics (from moralism to decolonial aesthetics)
The ethical cannot be separated from the aesthetic (Guattari outlined this in his notion of the ethico-aesthetic paradigm, which he developed in his book Chaosmosis, 1995). Ecology for that matter moves into the direction of what Félix Guattari in The Three Ecologies refers to as “the ethico-aesthetic aegis of an ecosophy”, a contraction of ecology and philosophy that connects the environmental with the psychic production of subjectivity and social relations.
At the core of the discussions around the relations between art and politics, Rancière claims that art should stop trying to explain to its audience ‘the truth’ about social relations and to present ways of how to struggle against (capitalist) domination. According to Rancière, art need not be politicized, for artistic practices are already political as they alter the distribution of the sensible within a given society. Only in this way they can engage with the “aesthetic regime of art” where “aesthetics refers to a specific regime for identifying and reflecting on the arts: a mode of articulation between ways of doing and making, their corresponding forms of visibility, and possible ways of thinking about their relationships (which presupposes a certain idea of thought’s effectivity).” (Rancière, 2004)
In contemporary debates about ethics we have to take into consideration the necessity of decolonization of knowledge and being. These concepts that have been introduced by the Working Group Modernity/Coloniality/Decoloniality of the Transnational Decolonial Institute (TDI) since 1998, are encountering the decoloniality of aesthetics in order to join different genealogies of re-existence in artistic practices all over the world. Decolonial transmodern aesthetics is intercultural, inter-epistemic, inter-political, inter-aesthetic and inter-spiritual but always from perspectives of the global South and the former-Eastern Europe (Grzinic, 2013). In addressing this shift the concepts of liminality and dissensus can be valuable.
Proposals should be submitted to aneta.stojnic@UGent.be by September 15th, 2014. Proposals should be submitted in (MS-Word or RTF) and should not exceed one A4 page.
See http://www.theaterwetenschappen.ugent.be/bodydanger for more information.
Proposals deadline: 15th September 2014
Notifications: 15th October 2014
First drafts: 15th January 2015
Feedback: 15th February 2015
Final drafts: April 2015
Publication: Fall 2015
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