This collection of essays centers around the question of “how a body ‘knows’,” from many perspectives coming from many disciplines, fusing traditional with experimentally interdisciplinary forms of scholarship. They chose dance as the locus of inquiry, explaining that it is to those for whom dance is central to questions of cultural discourse—”dancers, choreographers, pedagogues, critics, and scholars [of dance]” (xiii).

The introduction to the issue gives a brief rundown of the historical debates about the nature of dance:

  • Since their inception, Western philosophical writings on dance have their roots in classical antiquity. Remembering Kate Silen’s work on dance in Dante, these roots are mostly Neoplatonic, following the belief that “the harmonious movements of the body, together with music’s sweet sounds, symbolized on earth the celestial harmony of  the universe” (Sutton, qtd. in Silen 139).
  • The Renaissance sees an emergence of the impulse to capture the nature of dance textually, so practitioners can learn the properly categorized and described movements without another body having to be present
  • With the rise of aesthetics as a field, a series of essays appeared on dance, conferring a certain status to dance/the body as a somewhat serious academic subject
  • With the figure of the dance critic around the 19th century comes a new form of public, and a new (critical, male) gaze seeking both the artistry/beauty as well as the “voyeuristic” elements of dance. Result: elevation and commodification of the female dancing body, most notably the ballerina, with its own epistemic corollary: the body is believed to communicate meaning and artistic ideas, but in a vision-centric modality of readability, “further ensuring that the dancer as body, sex, and object was meant to be seen and not heard” (xiv)
  • 20th century: Archival turn; mind/body split is reframed, challenged, with the advent of modern dance in Europe and North America: artist-driven writing rises. Mentions three “women pioneers” that may be worth checking out: Loïe Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Deni

Still, there remain dogmatic thinking, a cartesian view of things still holds: this manifests beyond academic discourse and as an epistemic premise, but it cannot be separated from it. Here they’re thinking of dogma and resistance toward the unruliness of bodies in sociopolitical domains: bodies that refuse, bodies unwilling to acquiesce or bend to authority, unwilling to make themselves objects of analysis, bodies that challenge mobility restrictions, crossing-border bodies—often racialized bodies. But it also manifests in academic practice as resistance to engage in multidisciplinary dialogue.

The editors ask the following questions: “What sort of investigations or practices might facilitate the archiving of bodied acts or events, as well as their potential for retrieval and reenactment?” and “What is being stored, retrieved, or transmitted, and what or who shapes the body in storing or recovering its knowledge?”

Chapter 1 ~ Caruso Haviland, Considering the Body as Archive

“Bodiedness” for Haviland is the body’s capacity to store, assimilate, and activate knowledge: “a cognitive state.” This resonates with what I have been reading about muscle memory and how I am understanding it so far. (MM: the capacity of a body’s musculature to organize itself dynamically and relationally in space and time by a “re-membering” (re-attachment of a member to its (cultural) body) of patterns forged over time in response to social, personal, psychological, as well as physiological (hereditary?) rhythmic forms.)

Research suggests that the dancer’s body storage of muscle memory will operate at several psychosomatic levels upon retrieval/activation: nervous system, musculature, the physiology of the brain, and thought and language systems will participate in the (re)creation of the dancer’s movement.

Some useful questions to take from this: How is knowledge “understood through physical states and actions”? How does one get to know a knowing body?

Haviland states that at least two things need to change if we are to understand the body as archive:

  1. all modalities and disciplines of human inquiry must acknowledge the effect that corporeality has on their methods—no subject without a body, just as no knowledge production without the mediation of bodiedness
  2. we must revisit old configurations of the archive

The latter sounds like a call to revisionist archival work but the intention may complicate whatever simplistic connotation we have attached to “revisionism,” in the sense that the idea may resonate more with the application of a Foucauldian genealogical approach to those archives that have only been studied through orthodox archeological methods, so that an acknowledgement of the body in the archive and the archive as a body may reveal the discontinuities, disruptions, punctures, and in sum the multilayerdness of a given material capable of yielding several, even contradicting interpretations.

To understand the body as archive, previous work by Walter Benjamin, Foucault, and Derrida have enabled some paths forward. Here the author highlights Benjamin’s challenges to the linearity of the historical method and his work to theorize a view of historiography that accounted for the ways the past impinges upon the present, making the “consideration of the body as archive a viable construct” (2).

Foucault’s genealogical approach, enabling the inextricability of body and power as an historiographic analytic, suggested the imprintability and the readability of the body: power regimes leave a historical imprint on the body, hence this imprint remains stored, can be retrieved. Despite the many critiques that denounce the ways that Foucault used the body as an abstraction (hence his big handicap with colonized/racialized bodies), this aspect of Foucault’s work remains highly useful, specially for performance scholars whose field takes as point of departure that this “writ-upon body also writes; it activates, engages, or disrupts as a discourse in its own right” (4).

In line with Derrida’s revision of Freud’s archival fever (which Caruso summarizes by stating that the various interpretations that Derrida offered “frame archiving and retrieving the archive as both a debilitating and necessary venture”), it is now widely assumed that what gets recalled in memory is as much a result of the present as it is of the past: each act of remembrance modifies its object, just as the contents of an archive shift “with the flux in organizational forces” of which the historian’s body constitutes one of many, creating an indefinite range of possibilities for what the archive comes to mean: “[t]he archivist produces more archive, and that is why the archive is never closed. It opens out of the future” (Derrida, Archive Fever, 45).

Linda Caruso goes on to press the point of interdisciplinarity further—advances in neuroscience, she presses, need to be part of the conversation of trying to understand how the body archives. Strikingly enough, or perhaps not, the tendency to regard as static what is in actuality always changing has applied in almost parallel ways to the brain as it has to the archive. Think about it: we have tended to regard the activity of recall as an action occurring in accordance with an unchanging temporal pattern: the thinking I engages in recall in the distinctively bracketed present, bringing to mind an equally distinct and distinguishable event-memory in the past, the former having no bearing upon what the latter reveals or appears to be. Similarly, the historian has thought himself as a thinking I entering the historical time of the past, without considering his corporeality—and all that brings—as a codetermining factor for what he’ll find or how he will interpret it. Bodiedness in the sense here presented challenges the distinctness of temporal categories by demanding a critical self-examination of the researcher’s “stance, motive, and context” (6).

In the realm of dance, an exploration of memory, cognition, and body becomes possible and productive for therapeutic purposes, as is the case with a recent rise in dance medicine as part of cognitive psychology.

One interesting point she makes almost in passing is the role of embodied knowledge in the perception and interpretation of embodied performance: “Audiences […] draw on their own archives of movement to help make sense of what they see in performance” (9). Do these “archives of movement” predispose us to have certain affective, moral, and aesthetic reactions to the performances we witness? How is this knowledge retrieved, in the act of watching? Can this question become a research question, applied to external audiences? ie what are the implications of this statement for how we think of 19th century white European audiences devouring flamenco performances on international stages?

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