idocde » Editorial

Solo thinking does not exist

Documenting the process of thinking was one of the first question that emerged in the Western philosophical tradition. Plato, the first philosopher who left a systematic written trace of his queries, was also the first to raise suspicions against scribing the movement of thinking. He remarked[1] that the written text is like an orphan: its parent (the author) having disappeared from the thinking process, the text is left defenseless against the attacks of the readers–anyone can appropriate the thinking, chunk it into pieces, change its original meaning, and the author can't do anything about it. Not being present in the moment of reading but through the words that he left on paper, the author's intention is at risk to be forgotten or misunderstood. More recently, Jacques Derrida[2] noted that this departure of the author from the thinking is also one of written texts' greatest advantages: it allows the reader to follow his own lines of thinking, it makes room, in between the spaces of the written page, for the reactivation of the movement of thinking. It may not be the original trajectory, but it will be a trajectory that enters into the lineage of the reader, and not only follows the ordered mind of the author: when reading, one can go back and forth, stop, go for a walk, come back to the text, make notes on the margins. When listening, on the contrary, one is more likely to become the prisoner of the speaker's rhythm, structure and authority. Texts, as the etymology indicates, allow for the weaving of thinking, author and reader.

 

Plato was well aware of that potential–at least, that is what we can assume from the tremendous quantity of writings he left us. He chose a specific format for his texts: that of the dialogue. Thinking is, in Plato's view, never a monologue. Even when alone, the thinking happens as a “dialogue of the soul with itself”, according to his famous definition: solo thinking doesn't exist, because thinking is the becoming-in-relation to oneself. When I start thinking, I start from a place of separation: something is odd, something bugs, or rather, I perceive a sort of tickling indicating a vague sensation of wrongness in the shape or content of an argument. The act of thinking consists in linking or coalescing several incompatible realities. The very word dialogue indicates this becoming-in-relation of the activity of thinking. A dialogue is not a duologue–it is not the dueting of two monologists. Dialogue is a way found or researched dia (through) logos (language): the matter is not the number of participants, but the attitude towards language itself–do we consider the matter settled, and the only goal to make the participants agree? Or do we consider that what we will discover can only be found through the confrontation of arguments, through the relation?

 

British dance improviser Charlie Morrissey speaks, in his teaching, of the “myth of separation”–the idea that as movers we would be separate from what moves us. On the contrary, he calls to the recognition of a being-moved that precedes any moving. As French movement theorist Hubert Godard pointed out[3], this separation has been systematically instituted by our Western civilization at least since the Renaissance, with the double invention of perspectiva artificialis and modern anatomy. In the Italian schools of perspective, one learned how to represent a world separated from the viewer, that he could dominate in a single all-encompassing point of view. This contrasted with the prevailing use of painting and art in general as icons, that is instantiations of Saints meant to move the viewer closer to the one true God. At around the same time, Vesalius was proposing what became the foundation of our ideas about the human body. In his Fabrica, he included and described the first images of the inner mechanisms (muscle, bones, organs) that contributed in shaping our ideas about ourselves as automatons, minds (matos) able to move by themselves (auto), as the pilot in its ship. This contrasted, in its turn, to the reigning conception of animal physiology as a physiology of receptivity or sensibility, where the question was: what is moving the mover? The shift in perspective allowed for discoveries in the functioning of the body that the previous system didn't permit. But it also created an imbalance in our conception of what moving can mean, as we started to give priority to the individual's agency, instead of seeing the individual as an agencement, that is a weaving of relations.

 

Steve Paxton, who was one of Charlie Morrissey's first teachers at Dartington College in the 1980s, provides a form of antidote to the myth of separation. “Solo dancing, he says, does not exist:a dancer dances with the floor: add another dancer, you will have a quartet: each dancer with each other, and each dancer with the floor[4].” Dancing is a sharing of ground, it is a diageology: a way found or researched through the dialogue with the Earth and its gravitational embrace.

 

Could the writing of dance education and practices find its support in the form of a dialogue? My own experience of writing is that of a solitary practice. But in front of the blank screen, the page is far from being empty: my masters, my predecessors, my readings, my meetings come to the fore–I quote them, not because they validate my thinking, but because my thinking is the becoming-in-relation with them. I endeavor to weave myself in the multiple histories that construct me. But more importantly, I know that I couldn't write if I didn't come to spaces of verbal exchange in the first place: I need what Deleuze[5] calls mediators–intercesseurs in French: people, things, objects that intercedes for me in favor of other realities. My own intercesseurs are multiple, books from dead philosophers, friends, students, trees, works of art, dance practices: through them I think. Mandoline Whittlesey, in her understanding of the witness's role in Authentic Movement, sees the receiver as an adjusting tone: when witnessing, I can trace the travels of my attention, not only through the activity of my eyes, but also in the way tonal shifts arise, loop, move through and out of my torso, my neck, the muscles of my face. A mediator is who, or what, offers the tone that sustains my own thinking: much like a partner in a Contact Improvisation duet offers, through his moving body, varying surfaces to my own dance, a mediator gives me the gift of tensing (and releasing) at the rhythm of my thinking.

 

Who intercedes, who supports, the activity of thinking? This question is where, for me, writing begins.

 

Romain Bigé

– after many discussions, with Defne Erdur, Alice Godfroy, Mandoline Whittlesey,

Joaõ Fiadeiro and others

Freiburg-Paris, August 17th 2016


[1]      Plato, Phaedrus, 274b-277a.

[2]      Jacques Derrida, “Plato's pharmacy” in Dissemination, translated by Barara Johnson, University of Chicago Press, 1981.

[3]      Hubert Godard, “Fond / Figure”, [online] http://pourunatlasdesfigures.net/articles/comment-ca-pense-un-geste-/entretien-avec-hubert-godar.html

[4]      Steve Paxton, “Solo dancing” [1973], Contact Quarterly, vol. 2(3), 1977, p. 24.

[5]      Gilles Deleuze, “Mediators” [1985], Negotiations (1972-1990), translated by Martin Joughin, Columbia University Press, 1995.

 

 

PS: you can find the revised version of Romain Bigé's lecture "Unnecessary Attention" during the 4th IDOCDE Symposium here.