Art and dance, stability and transcendence
[Phenomenology of Dance]
When in the year 360 BC, Plato’s Timaeus –one of the most influential dialogues in western philosophy– questioned a definitive and ultimate problem in the history of ideas, the stability of the world, lyric poetry and tragedy had already exhibited a perverse dominion upon this question. The artistic expressions from the antiquity had called into question the nature of the human body, its evolutions in space and through movement. This form of orgiastic representation had had its origin in the symbolic institution of the sacred. Dance arose from the inner necessity of significance in the world, as part of a closed circuit of rational dialectic and exploiting the resources that constitute and give stability to fluctuating appearances. This had been the urgent admonition of Plato in Book VII of The Republic. Since then, history will be disassociated by an old chōrismós (χωρισμός), one that separates the permanence of things from the apparent change of the world. Antique dance had shown this ecstasy and this separation in the body. Ritual dances created a symbolic function in the community, carrying out a role in the institutionalization process. Festive religious dances of type extended the ceremony to a belief in a divinity, pardon or salvation. Pagan or carnival dances synthesised the orphic bond with nature, the universe and the undeniable presence of temporality.
The birth of the chorus –the triunica choreia– and the final expression of the Bacchantes were the radical examples of this ecstasy and this captivating hierophany. Idealism will recover its aesthetic effectiveness as a power conception of an intensification process of the ordinary experience, that Plato interpreted as Enthousiasmós, “the essence of god”, and that Aristotle will express with the concept of Kátharsis or orgiastic purification.
Against common sense, from the crudest reaction, its subversive and insufferable impulse, or from gaming and diversion, art in general, and dance as one of its representations, have not needed to take its most intimate nature as a theme, and the artist –choreographer or dancer– has not needed self-conscience or discursive reflection to be effective. Dance is another example of the general space of the arts and in some occasions, the reflections of the artist have got lost in a quagmire of profound lucubrations, programmatic digressions, declarations or manifestos. This digression of the author has been carried out customarily as the first receiver of the work, either in a position as producer, artist or genius. The aesthetic theory has spearheaded the “art-philosophy” relations. Society and culture have endured this controversial encounter, and theory has become a fortress. Once again art has needed an analysis of reflection. The speeches, either technical or aesthetic-artistic, seem to drift uncontrollably towards theory and, nevertheless, theory itself threatens to tire, saturate and dissolve artistic practice. The 20th century has become an incomparable framework to exemplify the resistance and collusion between both: practice and theory.
In the art of dance, the factum and its own characteristics are the natural sphere where the interaction between art and theory exercise. The artistic expressions of dance as well as the degree of complexity of their speeches have been an exceptional case. Not because they show more intensity, but because they reveal another nature, obviously present in the aesthetic phenomenon and in the art experience. The body has become the medium where those resources that constitute the world around us operate.
We will now deal with the nature of subjectivity, its dynamisms and performances, and how it “shores up” reality by giving it a stability that it would not ensure otherwise. A stability in which things extend and in which the ego locates itself, anchoring in nearby references, “taking root” in short. Therefore, we will consider this form of rooting as the “necessary anchorage” that preserves stability in our world, its permanence and corresponding praxis. Nobody loses this inevitable anchorage without a pathological split. In this sense, purely onthological and gnoseological, the loss of bonds involves the instability of the world and its sense: the loss of subjectivity in an indeterminate apeiron, without form or limit, which conforms the realm of the possible as the basis of existence. Some have preferred to illustrate this progressus with a botanical metaphor as rhizome, bulb or tuber, that progresses folding itself. In this way, the progress of subjectivity and reality brings a successive folding, pli selon pli, like in Mallarmé’s syntagma; an art to fold and unfold, as in the purest baroque and as in antique dance. Others, in a clear Metaphysical tendency, have preferred to see this progress as an unfolding, assuming that there is, at first, a being who unfolds, a substance, an entity or a deus ex machina (Από μηχανής θεοί). Nevertheless, very likely in a return to the maximum unfolded, we only find matter and the unfolded bodies in the conditions that make experience possible.
This concise digression will centre on three questions: necessity, stability and transcendence. Without deepening in it yet, we recognize a certain theoretical fecundity in these three questions, bound to the analysis of the human being, reality and its ways of representation, of the higher regions of the spirit: science, art and philosophy. The ultimate objective will be to demonstrate that the necessity that reconstructs the broken bridges over reality in the human being –in the words of David Hume, propping up and giving stability and transcendence to the world– has its foundations in our way to relate to the things. In that in-tendere our body is an unlocatable cell and the origin of stability and transcendence. The act recreated by this tendency towards the things themselves, towards the bodies and our nearby references emulates the primitive act in which we give sense to the world to find our place in it, to get our bearings and to unfold, looking for its stability and assuring its transcendence. This exercise, recreated and celebrated, is the natural spirit of dance. Its mimesis emulates the dynamisms of the body in a primitive genesis of spatialisation. Nevertheless, an indeterminate apeiron –although non chaotic– is what remains of the world, like pure materiality, rich and off-centre, on which the ego roots itself once and again, centring and impoverishing it. It is in that materiality where this human being, embodied and materialised around other constituted bodies, settles down its references and its bonds. Great part of contemporary philosophy has approached that surrounding ego ingenuously represented by dance through movement and in the experience of the world.
The experience of art brazenly exhibits the necessity, stability and transcendence of the world. The game, as was thematised by the aesthetic tradition of German idealism, is the ultimate expression of the control of art on these three questions. The movement of reality in its constitution by subjectivity becomes a fun, a reaction or a subversion of this need. The inevitable tendency to root in the space is expressed in the passage of the tightrope artist, in the rond of jambe, or the whirling dervishes. The long jump, a helter-skelter, free fall, vertigo or shooting aim will be expressions of this experience and, of course, architecture, music and dance will become its highest form.
- The necessity of the body in space
In dance the resources of representation that fused the body in the narration, the movement or the technique are exhausted. This untiring search of exhaustion springs from the primitive bonds that naturally relate body and space. For centuries western tradition has conceived this relation from a rationalist perspective, from corporatist materialism, from adequational and necessarist realism, or from exacerbated spiritualism. Contemporary thought has questioned the simplicity of these unifying body visions that have tried to explain the phenomenon of the body in space from a reductionist framework through geometry, physics and psychology.
Space has been portrayed as a great container, a topological matrix in which the body is placed and where movement and its temporary evolutions become feasible. Nevertheless, under the techniques of spatial and temporal ordering of the actions, geometrisation is understood as spatial closure and individual location of positions, along with the serial distribution and ordering of the whole.
The body is related to time and space after the insertion of a sequence of tasks, according to the logical order of execution and the spatial order of distribution, always under the coordinates of functional totality. Nevertheless, the experience of the body has brought to light the dynamisms and performances of subjectivity in that intentional attachment that composes and brings stability to reality. We have had another perception of the body through our experience of space and, consequently, a phenomenological turn has broken fresh ground towards subjectivity from the things themselves. The nature of subjectivity has been revealed through the connections of the body with the world of things. The phenomenological approach to that nature has greatly jeopardised contemporary thought. The consequences of this purely philosophical approach have been exposed in all human aspects, namely, in technical and artistic development, medical breakthroughs, geography, the media and communication industry, in the world of leisure, etc. The result is an unavoidable but dangerous transformation of our conception of the human being and, in categorical terms, the threat of a new anthropological approach. Art, nevertheless, has known how to explore that itinerary –from space to the body, from the body to the ego, and from the ego to the human being– in a frivolous provoking way, contributing to the discovery of what is possible and taking pleasure in what is necessary.
Phenomenology leads the analysis in search of the actions that make our spatial experience possible, that is to say, of the associative syntheses that allow the phenomenon of space. These syntheses are forming the necessary bonds for the appearance of the phenomena, in which the body is going to be a necessary nexus. For centuries we have understood our conception of space as objective spatiality, the space of points and distances in the lived world. Nevertheless, our experience of space has shown the necessity to differentiate between different levels phenomenologically implied through body. In turn, the synthetic activity of the “ego” has unfolded multiple levels of subjectivity, connected at the different levels or layers in which spatiality appears. These necessary bonds, articulated around our experience of the body, allow the spatialisation process to end in our common conception of space. However, though this process of spatialisation we have entered another spatiality, a level different from Copernican space; a spatiality without points nor distances, different from the spatial ideas in which classical science, Newtonian mechanics, and the naturalistic attitude have come together.
As it happened in Plato’s allegory of the cave, human beings –those dark prisoners of this space of appearances where the body is located– need the conditions and laws that give coherence and continuity to their lived world to remain. The system of shades and apparitions cannot change all of a sudden (stability), and that system must have a minimum of objectivity for it to take off or go beyond what is simply imagined (transcendence). This necessity becomes the security that helps us cling to the world. The body in movement experiences the stability of an objective lived world, given by some type of necessity. Its transcendence has to prevent its evolutions in space from being just a fiction, a hallucination or a dream.
The mission to advocate stability of the world through a necessity –not obligatorily essential but merely intentional and founded on the body– is suggested. The principle of experience is a fundamental form of “rooting” for philosophy: all intuition in which something originally occurs is a foundation of the right of knowledge; everything that is originally offered to us in that intuition –so to speak, in its corporeal reality– is to be taken simply as it occurs, but also only within the boundaries in which it occurs. Remember that in the 19th century, Franz Brentano –a neo-Kantian disciple of Bolzano– defined “intentionality”, from the Latin in-tendere, “to tend towards”, in terms of what medieval scholars called the intentional (or mental) non existence of an object, and that he himself –often ambiguously– defined as reference a content, direction towards an object (which does not mean a reality), or as immanent objectivity. All psychic phenomena contained in themselves something of an object, although not always in the same way. In a presentation there is something that is displayed; in a judgment something is accepted or rejected; in love, loved; in hatred, hated; in desire, wanted. This in-tendere, or “tend towards”, is in fact a form of “rooting” on things, a necessity –not compulsorily essential– that tries to give stability to our world without diminishing its transcendence, and that conforms our experience of the lived body. This experience, recreated in the space of the arts, shapes the deliberate use of the body as a radical and ultimate means to make, remake and destroy the nonessential, but intentional, bonds that ensure the stability of our perceived world and its corresponding praxis. Its representation through dance and its experience in dance as a projection of imagined expansion question the need of our bonds with the experienced world. For that reason, this artistic experience constitutes in its own nature a reaction, a subversion and, in fact, a permanent revolution.
- The stability of the body in space
Our position as watchers always starts from the given human reality, from the platonic situation of the prisoners who long to break free from their cave of shades through reason. That explanation’s primary target is to assure the stability of the perceived world and its praxis correspondingly. Nevertheless, it is necessary to ensure that that lived reality is not a mere appearance, a fiction, a dream or a hallucination. The purpose of stability always has been put before transcendence, assuming that the latter will always be a result of the former, but this is not necessarily like that. Consequently, both the old Metaphysical explanation and the modern one, transcendentalism, have aimed to explore the necessity that stability brings. And, in both cases, the type of need found is firmly essentialist. Classical science and the naturalistic attitude have introduced a practical notion of space that implies clear and necessary notions: points, moments, distances, simultaneity. The implied acceptance of naturalism has misguided us towards a confused concept of space and the body, towards a phenomenologically ingenuous notion that ensures the stability of the world at the expense of its own transcendence.
Both art, in particular dance, as well as philosophy and science have solved a fundamental equation: when increasing the stability of the world through an essential necessity, we risk its transcendence, and when assuring the transcendence of the surrounding world, we are in danger of losing its stability. This is the experience of the prisoners of the cave who would rather live in a world of appearances, secure, firm, permanent and stable, although it may be a fiction, and the experience of the prisoner who is released, free of his ties and forced to suddenly rise (eksaíphnês) and walk. The stability of the latter is sacrificed in favour of his own transcendence and of the discovery of the spatiality of the world, incarnated in his own body and on the outside of the others. We have forgotten that we consider this outer space from the inside of the Leib, of the lived body, the internal body. The experience of the body leaves no other solution than to reduce the power of stability (metaphysical, essencialist, eidetic) in such a way that the transcendence of the lived world be preserved without reducing its stability. This is the main achievement of dance as art, and the project of a future philosophy converges in it.
Dance reduces the capacity for stability of the world showing its transcendence. The necessity –not essential but intentional– of art in general, its in-tendere towards the things themselves and the other bodies, its discovery of other levels of spatiality, offer us a different form of stability that, far from sacrificing its transcendence, exhibits the richness of the world by appearing and the origin of the sense in this appearance. This exceptional importance makes dance a critical instance that exhibits the conditions of possibility of the body in space. For that reason, contemporary dance has become a reaction device, able to spearhead the revolutionary vanguards in our conception of reality and the human being.
Twentieth century thought demonstrated the necessity for a concrete operating force in the shape of a kinesthetic subject, a corporeal conscience, a living body, a Leibkörper. Perhaps the radical experience of the political administration of the bodies, incarnated in the outrageous acts of barbarism for the conscience of humanity that embraces the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has marked this new approach to the body. We cannot understand subjectivity without its connection to the Leib, without its nature as an operating intentionality. We cannot either understand an intentionality without kinesthesias in which we do not assume time. The actions of corporeal subjects can associate hyletic –material– sensations with kinesthetic ones. This way, the waves of sensitive fields are distributed in corporeal kinesthetic movements, grouped in subjective kinesthetic systems, developed in reciprocal dependency with esthesic syntheses.
Subjective kinesthetic movements adjust to corporeal movements and in order to change the sensations, kinesthetic movements change. This is the great phenomenological discovery and the substantial resource of dance. Kinesthetic sensations constitute the body (Leib) and are located in it, but they are irreducible to physiology. The ultimate data of the sensations by which things manifest and the sensations by which the corporeal subject itself is constituted –the built-in conscience– converge in the internal body, the Leib. This convergence allows us to define a metric space, with points and distances, conjugated with a time continuous of presents, and a spatiality of direction between spatialisation and the metric space of distances.
This importance of the kinesthetic over the hyletic, material, is what Edmund Husserl called the kinesthetic freedom of “I can”, and this particular “freedom” allows me to access to this original spatialisation, where the becoming of the corporeal singulars and the becoming of the transpossible senses that are integrated, correspond to becoming of spatiality and temporality. All this complex framework allows me “to make” the space around my body and to recreate, time and time again, this spatialisation in order to experience my own corporeality and its bonds upon reality. Every objective body is perceived thanks to the lived body and the body can feel itself by feeling. Phenomenological tradition, from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty, insists on the intentional constitution of the body in a complex reflective relation born with itself. This natural and intentional reflexivity of the body is not the projection of an active spirit on a passive matter; it is the lived body that orients us towards the world while it gathers information from it. Thus we conclude that the body is a horizon of the lived experience and a motor intentionality. Its “tend towards” is the non essential bond, the purely intentional necessity, that brings stability to the world maintaining its transcendence. This conclusion gives sense to a phenomenology of dance that today comes near, more than ever, to the artistic phenomenon as a horizon of extreme possibilities.
- The transcendence of the body in the space of dance
In conclusion, the phenomenological approach to art experience lets us thematise the phenomenon of dance and its representations. Against classical, naturalistic, positivist and scientific conceptions of the body in space, art makes the discovery of a non essential necessity possible, a need that gives stability to the world without damaging its importance. This purely intentional necessity has its nearest bond within the body, as a tendency, propensity, directive, disposition, attachment, affection, interest, homing, desire, inclination, sense or rooting on the things. Our ordinary experience shows us this in-tendere in all our relations with reality, including movement, gesture, attention or step. Dance recreates this intentional necessity, taking to the limit the evolution of the body in the genesis of space and sense itself.
When Pina Bausch advised her students to “search”, without even letting them know whether the steps they were taking were right or wrong, she made them explore the body through dance in space. This “search” is the persistent and never determined intentionality of the body in the space of dance. In clear reference to the allegory used in this presentation, the screen has become an analogy of this new transcendence represented in the art. When Douglas Rosenberg, the American producer and scholar, speaks about Screendance, he assumes this strange intersection, recrossing or introgression that characterises the empiètement –in Merleau-Pontian terms– of the body upon the world and upon the other bodies. This empiéter exhibits itself in the manifold and capricious forms of our “tend towards” space generating a hybridisation in our present world. As for Rosenberg, such hybrid form has been the incarnation of the artistic representation of this recrossing in the film.
For years, technology has been the device in which art transcendence is amplified. For that reason, the constant references to this hybridisation are already habitual in the world of technique, including all its scopes and establishing a common interaction between the body and the artefacts. In other occasions we have quoted Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller and Ruth Saint Denis, because in them this scandalous hybridisation is exhibited with radical presence, as it happened with the impossible avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. On the one hand we will have the freedom and the great scenic force of the body, from its presence as a motor intentionality that generates space; on the other hand, the presence and absence of the body on the stage that cannot be seen but through the light, which is the screen in movement, dematerialisation, derealisation, movement by itself. It is hardly surprising then that Paul Valery characterized this scandalous reinvention of the body in space as a form of time that ignores what surrounds it, that ignores the Earth and gravity. The body of the dance detaches itself from the ordered balances and, nevertheless, its instability is regulated, as there is a cadence that directs movement. The ballerina or the dancer creates a world with its own time and space, unaware of the daily practice.
The exceptional transcendence of the world, represented in that “system of resonances” called the art of dance, makes it likely to understand that a necessity in the contingency of things is possible. This necessity, exhibited in art, has taught us to break the essential stability of the real thing to find a new stability in the most radical expressions of the human being. For that reason, the transcendence that we rediscover in dance is a promise of freedom and emancipation. Far from unfruitfully trying an anchorage that may bring permanence and stability to our world, the discovery of the body as possibility has allowed us to settle into reality without fear, without the invention of security, without a safety net nor stage machinery.
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MERLEAU-PONTY, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Gallimard, l945.
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 DELEUZE, Gilles y GUATTARI Félix. Mille Plateaux, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1980.
 DELEUZE, Gilles. Le Pli – Leibniz et le baroque, Paris: Les éditions de Minuit (coll. « Critique »), 1988.
 SCHILLER, Friedrich. Kallias oder über die Schönheit, Sämtliche Werke, Band 5, München: Hanser,1962, S. 394-434.
 BLUMENBERG, Hans. Beschreibung des Menschen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2006.
 HUSSERL, Edmund. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführungin die reine Phänomenologie 1. Halbband: Text der 1.-3. Auflage – Nachdruck. [Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy, first book: general introduction to a pure phenomenology. First half binding. Text of the 1-3 editions. Reprint.] Edited by Karl Schuhmann. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977.
 SÁNCHEZ ORTIZ DE URBINA, Ricardo. Estromatología. Teoría de los niveles fenomenológicos. Madrid-Oviedo: Brumaria-Eikasia, 2014.
 MERLEAU-PONTY, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Gallimard, l945.
 ROSENBERG, Douglas. “Dancing for the Camera,” Dance on Camera Journal, Dance Films Association, New York, Vol. 1 #1, January-February, 1998. (http://www.dvpg.net/)
 VALÉRY, Paul. «Philosophie de la danse» (1938), en Œuvres I, Variété, «Théorie poétique et esthétique», Paris: Nrf, Gallimard, 1957, pp. 1390-1403. Conferencia en la Université des Annales, 5 de marzo de 1936.
 MEILLASSOUX, Quentin. Après la finitude. Essai sur la nécessité de la contingence, Paris: Seuil, 2006.