A few months ago, I presented the work of dancer/philosopher Erin Manning and her book, Relationscape (MIT Press, 2009) through a Bergsonian interpretation of movement. Her most recent book, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Duke University Press, 2013) indicates twice in its very title its credit to Gilbert Simondon‘s philosophy. This volume continues to construct a philosophy of the dancing body, continuously “taking form” in relation of its environment. Dance is not necessarily on stage and does not necessarily requires music (at least, not music that knows that it is music) in the case of individuation’s dance. “There are techniques for hoeing, for standing at a bus stop, for reading a philosophical text, for taking a seat in a restaurant, for being in line at a grocery store,” says Manning (p33) using the Simondonian terminology.
Interpreting this last passage in terms of normativity would be completely misunderstanding Manning’s dicourse. The techniques she describes do not involve a normalized body on which these techniques would be layered: they are proper to each body’s specificity. In fact, what Simondon brings to the concept of body according to her consists in the refusal of thinking a predetermined form for the body, which brings us back to the first episode of this week in critique of the hylomorphic scheme:
More-than its taking-form, “body” is an ecology of processes (and practices, as Isabelle Stengers might say) always in co-constellation with the environmentality of which it is part. A body is a node of relational process, not a form per se. A body is a complex activated through phases in collision and collusion, phasings in and out of processes of individuation that are transformed – transduced – to create new iterations not of what a body is but of what a body can do. […]
This is the contribution Gilbert Simondon makes to the body: he liberates it from the presupposition of a form, demonstrating how a body is alive across interphasings. (Erin Manning, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance, Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, 19.)
Thinking of “what a body can do” rather than “what a body is” makes us recall Spinoza’s philosophy (see past article “The Spinozist “Scream”: What can a Body do?“) and its insistence on matter and movement rather than essentialist forms. Forms can be seen as retroactive interpretations of material assemblages subjected to movement. In this regard, the description that Deleuze does of the image of a moving horse in his seminar about cinema is helpful (my translation):
What is moving ? Matter is moving. What does that mean, to move then ? It means to pass from one form to another. Form does not get transform, it is matter that goes from one form to another. That is a continuous idea in Plato’s work: it is not the small that becomes big, that is not the cold that becomes hot. But when water gets hotter, a fluid matter, water goes from one form to another, from the cold form to the hot form, it is not the cold that becomes hot.Forms themselves are immobile or they have movements in thoughts, but the finite movement consists in a matter that passes from one form to another. A horse gallops, you have two forms: […] the horse’s form at the maximum of its muscular contraction and the one at the maxim of its muscular development. You will then say that gallop is the operation for which the “horse-matter” (“matière cheval”), the horse’s body in its mobility does not cease to go from form A to form B and from form B to form A. (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema: Image Mouvement, Seminar at the Université de Vincennes, November 10, 1981)
Manning uses the term body, but understanding that it can be interpreted as a form, she prefers the term bodying, that is the continuously repeated action of forming a body. This action corresponds to what Simondon calls individuation indeed but it takes an additional aesthetics and ethical meaning when it comes to dance. Dance is trying to continuously propose responses to the Spinozist question “what can a body do?”German choreographer Pina Bausch (see past article 1 & 2) used to ask her dancers questions relative to their daily life gestures: “How do you get up from your bed?” for instance. From there, she would compose an inventory of movements that she would then re-use in her choreographs. These movements corresponds to the “techniques” evoked by Manning above. They are different for each body and, to some extents, different each time they are being accomplished, which refuses to think of a form to movement itself. Dance therefore constitutes a strong politics of the body, or rather a politics of “bodying,” as the refusal of predetermined forms formulates a unequivocal transgression to the normative processes that are based on the immanent predicate of predetermined forms. An ethics built against this notion of norm therefore constitutes an embrace to this continuously repeated operation of bodying as formulated by Manning inspired by Simondon’s individuation.
This “Simondon week” is now over, and I would like to thank everyone of you who has been following it, hoping that my wander in Simondon’s philosophy was clear enough, and useful for the construction of creative and ethical processes.