A SUSPENDED GESTURE

Lisa Skwirblies, May 2014

 

Ideology at Work: Brecht is back Vol. I

I was sure Brecht is dead. And here I am, standing with him on his street corner looking not at the infamous car accident but an ancient incident of cattle slaughter. Those people around me, that have just been addressed as the murdered flock, don’t look too happy, some are sitting down, some seem lost in their new role. I am standing tall. I have been given a special position in this room, not one of cattle or one of the many warriors. No, I was chosen to be an individual tonight, a protagonist, with a proper name. A position that can be addressed via indices like: he, him, his. I was addressed unexpectedly. I felt a flush of anxiety and uncertainty about what had just happened to me. I was addressed with a name that is not mine. I was being pointed at, being looked at, being called out for, being identified as someone I am not. Will I pass as someone else tonight?

The practice of indexing, in Jorge’s “A suspended gesture from me to you”, affected me less on an intellectual than on a very emotional and physical level. I find it highly interesting that such a seemingly dry and academic topic like indexicality, if put into a performative and embodied context, can develop such physical affects. This obviously echoes the idea that language performs, that, if we speak, we actually do things with words. An idea that has become the linchpin of the so-called performative turn in linguistics and the mid-wife for the still quite young academic field of Performance Studies.

What, then, did Jorge do to me with his indices? What did his indexicality perform? Being pointed at is an experience some of us might associate with positive experience (being chosen, awarded), some of us with negative experiences (being called names, being bullied, being picked on). Being addressed with a name, a “you”, or referred to as “him/her” is also always a process of identification. The Marxist philosopher Althusser, for example, calls this practice interpellation and argues that it is deeply ingrained in the practices of ideology. To illustrate his theory, he offers us yet another street scene: Imagine a police man on a random street corner calling out “Hey, you there!” - in Althusser’s concept at least one person will turn around and hence respond to the call. Even more importantly, in the moment one realizes the call for oneself, one becomes a subject – a subject relative to the ideology of law within which one has been addressed. And even, if we would refuse to turn around, respond to the call and thus be identified, we will inevitable do so on another occasion, according to Althusser, and thus voluntarily acknowledge the dominant ideology at stake.

What this tells us, is that the production of the social autonomous subject and the emancipation of the individual is not the way out of ideology, as we are often made believe, but rather a pertinent principle of it. That contemporary dance practices, for example, are not free from the workings of ideology either, but rather are complicit in them, is an argument developed by dance scholar Ana Vujanovic. She states that “dance as a cultural-artistic practice is never practice of human emancipation disengaged from ideology, but a tool for shaping the singular body as the social body” (Vujanovic, Ana (2013). Tiger’s Leap: a method of reloading the history of local scenes.) In other words, the production of an autonomous, creative, innovative social subject through the liberation of the individual body from a herd of cattle (may they be dead or alive) is very much part of the practice of contemporary dance practices in (Western) capitalist societies. And thus dance is in one way or the other complicit in celebrating the position of the individual and its inheritance of ownership and possession over the collective and the commons. By pointing at me and dissociating me from the group, Jorge non-verbal gesture in combination with the voiced indices turned me into a subject of this world he had created. He individualised me by giving me a name and a decent position in history (remember, I got to be not just aristocratic, but male and white as well). To back up Vujanovic’s claim that the dissociation of the individual body from the social body drags along with it an ideology of ownership and authority, one would just have to count the astonishingly high number of times that the indexing words I, mine and me compared to us and ours were mentioned during the performance.

On a different notice, I find it peculiar that with the story of Ajax, an incident of illusion, or rather, delusion is chosen in order to explore Brecht’s anti-illusionistic techniques. While Brecht relied on the everydayness of the street scene, Jorge uses a Myth and therefore an already highly dramatized story as his point of departure for developing techniques of demonstration. I find it striking that it is a story based on the incident of make-believe that is chosen. There couldn’t be a better advocate for Brecht’s anti-illusionist techniques than Ajax. Being tricked into believing something that is not real, being made-believe with the means of theatricality has lethal consequences for Ajax. He does not just slaughter a herd of cattle but realizing that he has been a victim of illusionist-techniques, he sees no other consequence than taking his own life. It is almost, as if Jorge with this particular choice of story line is saying: Never again, shall mankind be tricked like Ajax by theatrical effects.

A SUSPENDED GESTURE

Anik Fournier, May 2014

 

Jorge Gonçalves’ A suspended gesture from me to you also engages with how the body does not merely inhabit, but rather, creates the space through which it moves. However, in this instance, this world does not emerge before us, here our own bodily presence in space becomes the material out of which it is carved out. By combining the indexical abilities of language and the body, Gonçalves renders tangible a social context. In fact, the world that emerges is a political sphere consisting of antagonisms between “us” and “them”, the repercussions of what is “ours” and “theirs” as seen through the subjective perspective of the highly tormented main protagonist, Ajax (nice to finally know the story behind the local significance of this name!). In this way, the context we as spectators help manifest is not intended as an actual space but a world as seen through the eyes of a specific subject position from which all other positions (he, my, mine, you, they, them, our), as well as occurrences in time and space (there, then, now) are defined and gain meaning. 

The strength of the piece is how it successfully keeps the imaginary space in which the story unfolds, alive and dynamic, using efficient modes of address (both bodily and verbal) to continually inscribe and reinscribe the terms by which it is read. For instance, many of the “spectators” progressively take on key roles within the story line, whereas collectively we are invited to continually re-defining the general context, taking on the role of the soldiers in the Greek army, the members of Ajax tribe in his tent, Trojans. Strikingly, the effect is of being both participant and witness to the unfolding of a personal drama. Such a tactic did not fail to add a dose of humor to the work. 

Registering intensity 

In fact, the humor came from a slight unease felt by the audience members in negotiating this double position. By pointing to and identifying a spectator as a character within the narrative, the storyteller simultaneously drew them out of the collectivity and into the spot light. He allowed space and time for the indexical terms to do their work. While these pauses were silent and devoid of movement, they were no less intense. And here we come back to the movement in thought. The qualifying function of each term requires time for the audience to assess the semantic possibilities it carries in relation to the others that have constructed the context until that point. Specifically for the audience member who has been indexed and brought the focus of attention, the mental and sensory activity in these silences veers off in all directions as she searches for an appropriate bodily response.

Built with Berta.me