Friday, April 29, 2011

@ Harriet: Donovan Talks With Halpern & Stecopoulos on "Somatics?"

First, many thanks to Rob Halpern, Thom Donovan, and Eleni Stecopoulos--whose poetries and critical writings, social engagement and radical pedagogies a la participation in Nonsite Collective--I am deeply indebted to. Indebted in the sense of communis--the reciprocal gift, i.e., receiving and giving care--that perhaps needs occur for an ethical sociality, a common body to emerge from, and as alternative to, the rubble of neoliberalism. Rob and Eleni respond to Thom Donovan's questions as part of Donovan's ongoing series at Harriet regarding a poetry of/from "somatics." Rob and Eleni give several of us--among countless others they note can be named--mention with respect to the question of what somatics might mean as set of practices, as set of common and yet importantly overlapping investigations and collaborations. Thom's work here, like the engagements I've been part of, perhaps, is shaped by critical interaction and participation in other media, as well as broader social concern. For me, from labor organizing alongside participating in auditory and acoustic live performance, gestural and live art--and from years of living with "disability" as defined by an ableist culture. For Thom, I suspect, and related--thru his engagement with dance and the visual arts, contemporary conceptual and land artists. And I think Thom and I probably both felt that Rob's opening remarks (followed by other gorgeous ruminations by he and Eleni) registered deeply. From Rob:

To be honest, Thom, I don’t know what “somatics” means. And if “somatics” means something to me and my work, this can only be because it has some collective resonance, if only as a provisional frame of loose reference for investigating together the relationships between body, language, and social space. Somatics seems to be about working collaboratively in a range of areas to link very different practices by way of some shared concerns around embodiment: from poetics to choreography, psycho-geography to medicine, body work to translation, community history to political militancy.

Prior to publication of the interview with Rob, I emailed Thom about, I believe, his first post at Harriet regarding somatics, what I too take to be a constellation of becoming social relations and direct and indirect collaborations, not a term or field--an emergent set of rather diverse responses to what amounts to a crisis of the living: aesthetic practices that nonetheless all house within them the poison seeds of disembodiment, erasure, obsolescence, and violence upon this construction called the body. I emailed Thom thanking Thom for what I felt he was crucially getting to as part of these Harriet posts, and importantly thru interview, problems of discourse somatics begins to confront, or come into tension with, discourse in the sense of sedimentation, fixity, taxonomy, expertise, locality, and potential devaluation, via, rather than "return" to the body in CAConrad's sense (which is a finding of infinite excess and a social relation), a referent for something like a universal singular--something, as Stecopoulos notes, could resonate as replacement for or analog of "voice," hence, enclosure.

Related, lurking here is always (for me) a blurring of the important distinction between "a body" and "the body." I've wondered also about those of us who seek to articulate that heteronormative blurring, deconstruct it, and then reconstruct it on other terms--a project of gender negation. At what point does "somatics"--as term denoting a multitude of practices, as it stands--potentialize that blurring but also potentialize  occluding or precluding it, making of "a body" a sort of tradable good, an articulated (even designated) membrane beginning to harden contra lived relations and their unavoidable contradictions (and high stakes)? Thom, Rob, and Eleni, I felt, help address for me the complications and contradictions of bodies in searching contact in this regard. And of course so have so many others--those souls Rob and Eleni write about (David Buuck, Brenda Iijima, CAConrad, Brandon Brown, Amber DiPietra, Robert Kocik, Daria Fain). Something Rob writes I think warrants a great deal of lingering on:

So much has been made of “the body,” and yet it feels as though it’s always about to become a bland fetish, a hygienic fixture, an allegorical trope, rather than a set of messy stakes and real consequences. Brian Whitener and I were talking about this on Sunday afternoon at the “Movement, Somatics, and Writing” Symposium. What is not being talked about when we talk about “the body”? Whose body? Can it ever be definite? Can it ever be singular? Brian was referring to false intimacy, and the porousness of skin, and I was thinking about our vulnerability to penetration—be it by flesh, prosthetic, or bullet—and an unsettling line at the limit of Music for Porn: “My cock hardens in a soldier’s wound.”

Rob importantly locates some of these practices that have been called "somatics" within a concretized (as well as future-anterior) social frame of "messy stakes and real consequences," later quoting both MLK from his "Letter" and Bruce Boone from his Century of Clouds.  The immediate complicating of meaning and practice here with concrete stakes is, it seems to me, to "confess" to the vulnerability we have with one another and to discourse, to "confess" perhaps to the discomfort of unwitting, inevitable, or potential complicity in the mechanisms of identity reduction (to commodity and to the obsolete) that "somatics" emerges from, where to make visible always has tactical downsides (I think here of Dean Spade's "Trans Law On a Neoliberal Landscape" as a treatment of the militancy of relative invisibility, its power as organized and cloaked counter-intelligence--"under cover of darkness.").

Enriching Rob's important acknowledgment of the contradictions and stakes of real bodies, Eleni's remarks register, for me, a malleable framework for thinking about bodies and bodies thinking us anew (as our senses become theorists and conversely) that I take to be crucial for we who seem, at this moment, to be collaborating:

 Recently the poet Patrick Durgin asked, “Is ‘somatics’ the new voice?” I thought this was a very interesting question because it raises the implication that poet-critics who invoke the term may be turning to the body for the same reasons that voice gets valorized—for uniqueness, authenticity, immediacy—the metaphysics of presence. But for me, the answer is “no.” Because my sense of somatics ultimately leads me away from the individual body and toward the interdependence we learn from disability culture, the microcosm and macrocosm we learn from Chinese medicine, where the individual body is always porous to the whole, toward environmental medicine where the highly sensitive prefigure the condition of the oikos—as I once heard Mei-mei Berssenbrugge say, “we’re not the aberration but the vanguard.”

I don’t look to the somatic for authenticity, but rather native estrangement. In a Poetics of Healing colloquium I curated with physicians and poets on the subject of listening, the medical historian and emergency medicine physician John Tercier said something that has stayed with me: “Poetry is language made strange, language that draws attention to itself. In illness the body is made strange. One of the things that privileges poetry [as therapeutic] is that there’s a certain relationship between the body made strange and language made strange.” But also I would say that in illness the body recognizes itself as strange. And in healing as well. One’s body becomes other, in the sense of care—you have to care for yourself as an other, or allow yourself to be cared for, which is also a kind of care. It’s the way that “therapy” derives from therapeutes, the attendant, the one who waits on you, serves you, treats you in the drudgery and abjection that sickness brings—treats you without any certitude, without knowing whether you will be cured. Lately I think it’s precisely in this labor—this experiment in the dark, this art of composition in real time—that the poetics of healing lies.

Here's to these labors, and to three writers, and their/our countless friends, for whom the stakes are too high to allow for common sense to be anything more or less literal than it is: to sense commonly, which can only come thru "this experiment in the dark," a lived relation vulnerable to estrangement, a "strange" thing, paradoxically emerging from dissensus, ultimately from ruptures in Common Sense. Messy and real.

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