Tuesday 8 February 2011

Tormented by the Body

What is the potential for close, critical reading of the language used by the participants?

In an earlier post I quoted this line by Peter, one of the participants in the dance watching group. Here he is discussing 'Awakenings' in his second piece of free flow writing about 'things he saw':

Tormented by the body, frozen in stilted motion, a world in which normal
movement has become an unfamiliar thing.

This is something that I suspect we can quite readily agree is an evocative phrase, it is full of affecting imagery, it encourages us to feel what it describes – emotionally and/or physically – rather than that simply see it. Importantly it encourages us to engage in this emotional /physical affect whether or not we have seen the performance that is being described. In terms of our engagement with this phrase, the performance itself is no longer relevant as we instead draw on the connotative substance and heft of the words and our own cultural and personal experiences.

In the tradition of ekphrastic writing however, the phrase seeks to translate some of the experiential properties of one thing to another – from the dance into language. That is a translation of sympathy rather that equivalency – not identical, but the same in its difference.
This affective engagement operates through a process of empathy. When looking at this phrase I first thought, well he is simply describing what he saw, dancers performing in a tormented, stilted manner, alienated from their own bodies and from our familiar sense of normal movement. Yes, I thought, I saw that too. Yet there is nothing particularly simple in that description or in that perception, it is particular to us watching in an embodied manner, with and through awareness of human bodilyness.

Equally for anybody reading the line the response is rooted, I'd suggest, in reading it with and through awareness of human bodilyness.

What, however, can we say about the extent or exact nature of this empathetic relationship to the performance? I think we can very comfortably say that neither the writer when he was watching the dance, nor the dancers when they were performing, nor you when you are reading the sentence feel tormented. However, there is a feeling of tormentedness that was first projected by the qualities of the movement to the writer and then (in a translated form) by the qualities of the language to the reader, which we can connect with and be affected by without actually succumbing to it.