A critique of flow–the belief that dancers’ task is to deliver an unmediated fluidity of movement, coming from the “master’s” imaginary, passing through the body of the dancer, kinesthetically, out into the world. An idea of flow that goes back to Friedrich Schiller’s 1793 project of an aesthetic state. Schiller’s vision includes an analogical parallel between a perfectly fluid society where both the bodies of the polity and the body politic engage in “ongoing, fluid motion […] without impediments and without collisions across a populous yet magically uncluttered space” (297). It is already apparent that such a vision is both exclusionary in nature and would depend on a widespread application of regulatory violence in order to come into practice. It is also apparent why this concept would become popular: as Lepecki writes, from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the idea of flow “emerged as a pervasive concern in the arts, science, pedagogy, and industry […] particularly [in] physics” (298).

Flow and/as Capitalism

As per contemporary times, this idea(l) prevails, as evidenced by the advent of capitalism as the “free flow” economic system par excellence–it depends on an “interpassivity” of bodies and on this passivity (orchestrated by previously established and monitored streams of networking and logistics) as the condition necessary for the imposition of a “smooth circulation so that capital may profit from its harnessing of flow” (298). The violence: a forceful foreclosure of the body as agent–an imposed flow makes impossible other kinds of movements as possibilities, neutralizing “one’s political, historical, and aesthetic agency”. So many echoes of Barthes’ idiorrhythm writings in Lepecki, notably here, as per Barthes’ statement that the first thing that power does is impose its own rhythm.

Lepecki submits that this image of flow as social ideal comes with a dark underside: “repression, censorship, and tyranny as blocking or antiflow emerged.” WeiWei’s movie, “human flow” comes to mind here: refugee populations as both the result of, and the enabling element, of borders, in this sense borders as a kind of rhythmic tyranny.


Lepecki reads Michel Serres’ historicization of physics and subsequent critique of a physics of flow as “essentially ‘anti-historical'” in order to illustrate how this physicsofflow thinking permeates all of Schiller’s political aesthetics. That is: Schiller’s politico-aesthetic proposal is predicated on the de-subjectivization of the body, which is to say that its ideal state is that of (unconscious?) constant flow, unperturbed by the affects, moods, and memories that would otherwise be the very characteristic of such a body (i.e. a human body). In short, a pro-flow state is that in which the body is impervious to historicity in the sense defined earlier—the body politic and the bodies of those therein should be like new physics’ “fluids,” which, Lepecki explains via Serres, “were treated in the seventeenth century by the new physics of Isaac Newton and W. G. Leibniz as ‘eternally virgin wax tables, even if continually traversed [by physical forces]’”.

“Eternally virgin wax tables.”

Lepecki makes no mention of gender in this article—perhaps he feels he doesn’t need to, that his critique operates at the level of historicity which is capacious enough to encompass gendered experiences in its variations without having to mention their specificities. And perhaps I agree. But it seems this would be a good place to do so—to comment on the ways that this bleaching, homogenizing ideals that enable physical laws of bodies in motion subtend, in turn, the idea of capitalism’s networks of flow, the violence they produce in their eternally self-sustaining operations, and how all of the above feeds off of and relentlessly enforces a patriarchic grip on the female body, including but not limited to its commodification and sexualization, its symbol of patriarchal control (specially pertinent here as it is this equation that gives virginity its value as social capital), as well as its operationalization as another means of production ([of laboring bodies], recall Jennifer Morgan’s work on African women’s experience in the Middle Passage, kinship, and partum sequitur ventre stuff).

But back to physics:

As a science intent on producing a set of universal laws affecting the motions of all bodies, historicity would be a real inconvenience, as it is historical consciousness that makes impossible a universal experience of being human. Physics, though, was dealing with other kinds of bodies, and so it can afford with relative harmlessness to remain antihistorical for its own purposes. The problem came when choreography, which Lepecki calls the “art of embodied physics,” under the ideals presented by the antihistoricity of physics, “systematized dance as an art of transmission of physical forces,” requiring of the dancer nothing less than they, too, become void of any trace of historical consciousness. Another quote just to bring the point home: “Rather than being perceived as historically grounded sources of movement, the implementation of choreography as art of motion, as physics aestheticized, required turning dancers into antihistorical vehicles for movement” (301).

Critique of flow via an ironic reading of Heinrich von Kleist’s 1810 “On the Marionette Theater”

Super interesting text, Keist’s–pontificates over the idea of grace and flow, comparing animals’ and puppets’ ability to kinesthetically convey the kind of fluidity implied by and constructive of new physics’ concept of flow. According to Keist’s paradigm, humankind, as the self-conscious animal, is incapable of attaining such flowy state of grace—immanent to humanity are movements not of flow, but of “exertion, hesitation, affect, and persistence.” It is this inevitable state of eventual “exhaustion,” characteristic of human dance, that would halt natural, uninterrupted flow, and it is precisely this ungracefulness of movement, which “infuse[s] dance with resting, only to start it again,” that is the hallmark of historicity as an active, agential capacity: it rescues memory from the passivity of an antihistorical physics of flow, enabling an embodied experience of race, gender, and other bodily markers rendering bodies vulnerable to varying degrees of violence that determine one’s experience in the world. The dancer becomes agent, not angel—subversive, no passive, when she incorporates “that violence as a countermove” into “another kind of historical, or critical-historical, embodiment.” Quoting at length re “historical consciousness as performance”:

Historicity or humanity: synonyms naming a critical interruption of flow, an altogether different task for choreography, one informed by, and activating, historical consciousness as performance.

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