from M to R

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captured by Laçin T.

The first weekend of July 2018 I went to see a performance called ‘Dancing Letters’ by my friend, performer/dancer/choreographer Gonca Gümüşayak (@ggumusayak) at #solocontemporarydancefestival in Cermodern. Look how she is entering the stage while she’s just yet being announced… before the introduction is over… just like language inviting herself into the sphere of communication. Before the ‘presenter’ even knows it she is speaking to us, bypassing an order settled before and outside her. Those who keep paying attention to the order of the presenter (that order being representative of some sort of bureaucracy) in the foreground miss the first instances of the dance(r) coming in. She’s also almost immediately perceived in the background, capturing space by her arhythmic or strangely-rhythmic moves. How ironic…  Language is also like that. It is a plane of representation, molded into norms, prayers, webpages, music sheets, canvases, laws, verdicts, promises and threats in the hands of an author who thinks their mastery has got the genie in the bottle, therefore language always seems vulnerable in its connection to structure and establishment. Yet, it is lighter than both the structure and the author. It escapes (the pseudo master). It hits (you when and where you least expect). It can destroy (a blind pride).  That’s why many autocrats still want to dictate the rules of speaking and writing (but they are inherently incapable of ruling over hearing) because authority fears losing the patent of this ultimately anarchic code. Language is violently powerful; it always rises whatever shape it comes up and burns whoever thinks they can rule its joints, flow, logic and air. That is why I need to be humble as I put my two cents in on the dancer’s moves, because she has another version, everyone in the audience has another version, and the moment of performance has an own version that does not speak the code any of us deciphered. It is painfully free.

Dance is inherently open. Even as I’d still hesitate before I dive into dancing in a new setting, I like dance a bit more dearly than music, which may fall into a trap of closed circuits, of staying incommunicable to anyone but the performer. Once, a struggling musician had stubbornly told me that only his partner in performance on stage can understand him uniquely; only they know the code, and anyone who does not speak the same code is not going to be eligible into their heaven (or hell). He had added another layer to secrecy: it is not enough to hear it; it is not enough to know the notes; it is not enough to be able to follow the sheet music in the same intensity and rigor; but it’s the special connection in their eyes that makes or breaks the line of communication. Only they know. We outsiders can merely pretend to come closer. The close(d)ness of the performing moment is something I have heard from other musicians several times before; the particularity of being in a mood that is not entirely legible or audible to audience was highlighted already. How sad. Like there is entire access to any other body’s mood. However, this instance he described was severely exclusive and lonely. Quite the blow, right, thinking of how popular discourses celebrate music as ‘universal’, all-inclusive and friendly? Where is the possibility of the new, of a fresh thread of communication?

Dance is inherently open-hearted. Unlike that false expression that we keep hearing as open-minded, dance invites an intriguing communication from the core. Whether solo or as a collective on stage, it takes a weird level of confidence to go from figure to figure by using a medium that are readily available to us all: body and face. Without a body, you cannot retain the ability to listen or play or speak. Through choreography, dancer can switch between figures and we need no further literacy. Yet, it is not that democratic fable just because no secret sophistication would be necessary. Sometimes it would be comical to the eyes untrained to receive the autonomy of such dancing body. First comes body, then choreography, and the rest follows.

Someone young in the audience asked what she really did at the end and how she did that circle thing by her hand from her core… Here you go, she built intrigue, unclarity and density. She built communication without neatly arranged codes. Dancer built a question. Watching Gonca’s performance on the third day of the festival, I realized that only she took up to the stage while the announcement was still going on. Was that courage or something else? I do not know. Perhaps necessity. Perhaps immediacy. Perhaps ‘I-can’t-help-but-take-this-route-right-now’. Other dancers on the same day -mostly from Europe, Cyprus and Israel- did not really need to interrupt the setup of the introduction. She showed up before the speaker finished announcing her on this marked, white sheet, kind of sterile, all-eyes-on-the-performer square. She’d originally like to deviate from that center and go asymmetrical, she told us, but it was a no; this was the way all performances were arranged to start. Would you question her desire to asymmetry? In the first half of her dance without musical additives, I found myself liking that intrusion (!); this is probably the best intrusion, the smartest contribution, I told myself. The rightful interruption is born of the interrupted context. Strong therefore inviting, yet intolerant of violation.

Then I realized she was on to something else: a hard-earned communication of the creative process to the audience? Clearly, all art takes a dreadfully long process of creation; lots and lots drop out along the way, when a few reaches the prize perseverance becomes fetishized, and by default much of the audience feels excused from the long rehearsal in order to jump to the final product and praise it. In this frame of life, process would always be castrated. But the process is alive, and it is prone to change indeed: It’s like being on a railway, and having the power to switch rails. It’s the trajectory that teaches us what the artist/performer has actually meant to show: Gonca’s voice gave way to music in the second half; her bends gave way to words, amorphous sounds and then again words, and back to sounds; the trajectory of letters into words changed according to outside sounds and reactions; she heard the audience and remained open to its reaction in principle as well as in action. From M to R there was a long way to go and there were spare moments of adaptation, alteration and suspension. Knowing this makes artistic performance inconsumable and unfrozen. Why did she spend a longer pause/sway in transiting from M to R? The life of the performance really meant for me how we are not supposed to be excluded from the transit. It is not a simple transfer. Nor is it a show. We are in the process by way of imagining, thinking, adding, suggesting and perhaps at some point by figuratively repeating a hesitant M to an insistent R. What is your M to R as you read this?…

Later in a conversation she asked us what her performance made us think. People at the table found the tension of structure and post-structure, discussing whether she deconstructed or kept going with the structure. While her dance is inspired by William Forsythe’s choreography,  she is apparently searching to express her own manifesto, and that requires reflecting on why she birthed what she birthed. The moment the performance fills some space, it is aptly changing and the beauty of this is that we can witness the tough part easily. What does that mean for an ongoing, existing yet opening structure? Freya Vass-Rhee spends some time figuring out Forsythe’s choreography that merges vocal and visual components of movement. To draw audience closer, to make them understand the dancer-choreographer’s grief, Forsythe appears as a firm believer of expressing intermodality, where vocal reflection will be employed as much as any other sense during movements of the dancer-body. If dance is a sort of ‘visual music’ and ”sound is fundamentally a product of movement” for Forsythe (Vass-Rhee, 2010: 391-392), then the dancer speaks with all her body and using her wide sphere when she decides to speak. We are part of her sphere and at her reach (read: mercy) when we play the part of audience. I suspect that it is not a circular sphere; it is amorphous; like a blast or a shock wave, it is not smooth or round. If we are there at its reached margin, we hear, and it is beyond our will.

Vass-Rhee writes that ”Forsythe and his ensemble, by extending movement into the vocalizing regions of the body, moves dancing across the perceptual boundaries between visual and aural modalities” (2010: 398). What does that do? This is meant to confuse and crack the frozen gaze(r), and the mobilize a partnership with those who are already affectively open to the dancer’s vibrations in space. Be open-hearted and hear me! is such a difficult statement to complete. Anybody can think being open-minded is enough as they want to watch (and leave).

As I watched Gonca move, I kept thinking about Pierrot’s Alphabet. In January 2018, I happened to get a sale print of The Man of Letters or Pierrot’s Alphabet (1794), probably reprinted from The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design on an excursion to Castro neighborhood in San Francisco. It mesmerized me how the figure dropped human status for seconds and took up another status, i.e. the status of a letter. The letter-body looked like a joke(r), but it posed artfully to take up several pauses recalling the shapes of a silent artifact. This silent yet highly emotional artifact is both vocally and visually powerful. It was crafted by (a sort of) human(istic) mind and its technology is so simple that it is now long forgotten how it will always transgress its physical limits. It mesmerized me for the fact that it had a communicative contortion to express the new using the classical. Why mock or perform the letter, otherwise? (Desire, perhaps? Go further, though.) Why this simple act of coming closer to a distant letter that your hands and mouth gives constant birth? Perhaps much complicated stuff happens during the trip of a letter’s emergence/figuration/creation, and a performer wants us to hear it to co-create it, be it grief or joy or loss.

After all, art is about following the ridiculed openness. But why?


Go Further:

Ask the artist and learn more about her work at:  https://www.instagram.com/ggumusayak/

The Human Alphabet, several sources compiled, https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-human-alphabet/

Vass-Rhee, Freya. 2010. ‘Auditory Turn: William Forsythe’s Vocal Choreography’, Dance Chronicle, 33: 388-413.

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the unaffected

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the liberating (!) view near my neighborhood now. photo by author.

Here is a narrative of why I moved this summer and what I found right after.

-1-
Hearing

 

So, I moved. I pushed myself out of a single room of insanity called ‘residence hall’ and into new terrain. I removed myself from the pulp, put an end to the flounder, made sure to shatter the frame that holds me from seeing a written product of my research. Why? Was I not ready? Pain and ailment, instead of creativity, defined the last two years. Every time I thought the situation improved, my attempts were scratching the walls of a single room and hitting me back. Those could not be part of the writing process. It felt as if I was fighting a demon that sticked to me while I walked into the room and did not allow me to sit down and own my efforts. In a fantasy novel, that would certainly move the script on: a parasite. In the dictionary,  parasite is defined as ‘one who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.’ Interesting. I remember the slimy parasite, its human and non-human forms; I also remember the moments I let it in because I thought I should hear it out. This was a moment of being affected; I did not need to remind myself that I needed to be more open to the flow; I was properly open to the flow and quite ready to dismiss the blind distance in order to hear out by the moves of others around me. My tools when I collected data in the fieldwork had become my hands, my steps, my touch, and my character. I became one with my method and did not feel guilty for it. On the contrary, this was strength. ‘I should hear it out’ was my strength.

There is merit in hearing. Hearing is different than listening: hearing builds on reciprocity that the latter lacks morbidly. When one hears another, life and challenges of the ‘voice’ cannot be ignored anymore. Communication has started.  bell hooks captured this moment of communication or the lack thereof. In ‘Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life‘ , she goes back to threads of her writing career and narrates uneven power dynamic between hearing and listening:  On page 98 of this memoir, bell hooks (1997) narrates her position among college ‘friends’ in California:

When I speak everyone stops to listen but then no one hears. They are all white and they are all here to celebrate being female. They do not want to hear that the shared reality of femaleness does not mean an equal share in powerlessness.’ (…) ‘They listen to me but they don’t hear. They don’t have to hear. This is what it means to be among the colonizers, you do not have to listen to what the colonized have to say, especially if their ideas come from experience and not from books. They ask you if there is a book they can read that will explain what you are talking about.’

Pleasures of listening are not available to hearing-body, when one finds out a weird togetherness instead of enjoying a safe distance from things and lives of others. Hearing is a relationship; listening is a performance – a show. Hearing does not imply the safest of distances. bell hooks understood a comfortable audience who knew what they wanted to receive, and it is this frozen act of listening that highlighted disposition to sweet power.

An unforeseen discomfort of hearing! I had to move out of that room where I certainly felt uncomfortable with hearing out people’s stories and discontent, where the speaker actually wanted to preach to me -as I later realized. Some of those speakers were friends, some were just company, while others pseudo-friends. Towards the end of my stay in that room (of fieldwork, to be clear), I was questioning how much agency I gave up in order to hear a speaker-subject who certainly had things to tell, to pour, to let out -sometimes without much tact. I suppose the hearing-subject trusts, because she has to; that’s the only mood to get going. The speaker, on the contrary, without a specific gender, with a possibly and comfortably childish manner, can switch to a self-involved mode, as the hearing-subject invites them into mood to be received… Think of your stubborn lover who does not understand when you demand to take a break. Think of your grandparent or late parent who would not hear your side of the story at all and push their outdated agenda. They may be full of themselves, and going after pleasures of listening (more so those of speaking); but more urgently they do it because that is the most comfortable form of being in the world at that moment. Likewise, the speaker-subjects who addressed my ears live in a receiver society and may want to pour words, dump stories, and complain – perhaps just without substantial reflection. The subject does not necessarily think to receive back from its mic. That time is probably what sets the pain in motion in the one who heard. This is a stinging dimension of qualitative research: learning to be comfortable with hearing and yet hitting a wall of non-conversation, the hearing-subject will find that the speaking-subject is rather busy seeking attention to their immediate lives.

But, that moment of hearing was supposed to be a rare opportunity (or mistake depending on which end you are at) in which to be affected shows up in our profile, connecting us to the ‘translocal’. Being human requires a body and bodies have layers; when encountering other bodies they cannot escape an extent of reciprocity.  Ben Anderson noted what affect meant in the space between bodies, and he noted the unavoidable circulatory power of affect in this gap between us: in order to ”think through affect we must untie it from a subject or object and instead attune to how affects inhabit the passage between contexts through various processes of translocal movement’‘, he wrote (Anderson, 2006: 736). Affect runs free and uninhibited; so it comes handy when you are desperately trying to connect to the trajectories of strangers in the fieldwork, to hear what someone is running from or swimming against or playing with; to apply stitches on the passage between you asking questions and that vocal source sharing pieces of a trajectory full of clefts, deterritorialized and abused by the capital. I think that is a point where we are still not well-equipped as fieldworkers as we set out towards that ‘translocal movement’. Researchers are trained and instructed on unequal power relations in the field for sure; we know to be cautious of our position and dispose ourselves to difference; we think we know to an okay extent what walking on clefts will feel like, and some keep the walk short and painless. But when you behaviorally change by spending a little too long on a cleft, you will fall; when you’re not clear at what point you relay your space too much that another will take over and gulp down that translocal space. I think a move without making damn sure that the speaker-subject wants more than to be received is a poor move; and, an inclination to hear rather than listen obviously leaves one wanting a new pair of ears. That’s how my speaker-subjects, both in the fieldwork and post-fieldwork -interesting continuity-, seemed to have a pretentious understanding of the gap between bodies in that sense. I found they lacked a response to a charge with hope from the other side: even in the flow of conversation, I lacked a more complete feeling of reciprocity that comes with thinking that we are in a conversation, which is a zone for multiplicity. Many times, when it was my turn to throw the ball, no one seemed to catch: affect is the warranty that we will have this ball game. I am deliberately thinking conversations during fieldwork and post-fieldwork together, as there is a connection although not an assimilation: my learned behavior as a hearing-subject. I am not overdoing it, though; I am just inclined to hear what I am listening to.

In the end, hearing should imply conversation, right? That ‘assumption’ increased the magnitude of my disquiet when several conversations hit the wall, and that is why I had to move: Disconnect from the walls of the room and reassemble my face. Two flat enemies. Two façades against each other, getting close day by day, until the one that is more humble and flexible transgresses and flips over the other’s walls, turning inside out and locking outside in. So, then the room became the captive one, and the face had to get out. Outside is not necessarily a good place, but positions will have changed. You may call this the beginning of a new response on the planet of parasites – it would make a fine sci-fi movie scene.

-2-
From one room to another: into the arms of the callous

When I was about to move, I anticipated the callous-subject. It would be a revisit to the field(work), and I had a sense of what space was left to be affected. But here is a new glimpse at the restless:

So I relocated. I have been taking walks, setting up a new rhythm for my work and health, and preferring to stay home for extended hours; this kind of thing can come after a period of too much work for little result. On those brief movements, I have run into random restless strangers who seemed to be lost in their own universe rather than being contemplative of the space between us. First, I would stop to think if I am too much of a stranger here. Okay,  perhaps they might have become callous; the last few years in Turkey have been a lab for urban violence of various sorts, so it does not take a research lab and a long series of studies to figure out that people will retire into their own (s)hell and become insensitive to protect their senses! In a recent interview with Ozan Zeybek on yeşilgazete, he pointed out to the media impact as one factor to shrink contemplative politics rather than expand it:

Sürekli dikkatimizi çekmek üzere yarışan ve infial yaratmaya yönelik bir üslûpla sunulan olaylar, hafızamızı aslında zayıflatıyor, siyasetin alanını daraltıyor. Tepki vermemiz bekleniyor; ama takip etmek güçleşiyor. Her şeye tepki vermeye çalışmanın aşındıran bir tarafı var. Bir de düşünmeye, akıl yürütmeye ket vurabiliyor. 

Trying to react to any signal [news] coming in erodes the memory and shrinks the field of bearing politics, he contends. Meanwhile, the restlessness I run into has its merits, too: While disaffected from another body passing by, the unaffected can be freshly sensitive to a thing physically out of reach… Could be a cat account on Instagram, an emoji, a heroic defense, a match point, a win score, a loving gesture from the most indifferent person… as long as those evoke feelings of past, lost, foregone, completed,  faraway moments that one wishes incomplete and still open. To be fair, the unaffected are most easily affected by ‘let me go moments’, ‘this is my chance’, on a channel of personal liberty to go, do, eat, be and go again. Immediacy is perhaps key to understand why someone like below would be obsessed when it comes to urgent, bodily situations: When I stop by the public restroom in a mall, a woman who would immediately like to use the next stall has no patience even after she perceives that all the stalls are occupied. A cleaning staff stands there in the restroom with us. The woman (customer) rushes in, acts impatient, looks around not amused to see us in her private bathroom, banks her body on me lightly to push an obstacle around, then she scolds, at unease thinking someone is blocking her. It’s hard for her to realize the surroundings. She obsessively points to a stall; she is pretty convinced it should be unoccupied and we losers are waiting for nothing. She could be screaming in her body language ‘I need to pee and you’re not letting me’ ! Make way for the child.

On a certain level, she is in a rightful situation. I mean, she has to pee; it is unavoidable. She is not in her own private quarters, though. By being in that public surrounding, she accepted the possibility that stalls could be occupied and she’d have to wait or act earlier – which we simply call basic calculation of actions and moves, rights? Maybe she did not know she signed that contract when she stepped in the mall. At one moment, impatience in her did not allow her to recognize that there were people waiting in line in front of her.

At another level, it is funny. ‘Funny’ as in Funny Games. At the checkout, for instance, the next person in line acts like they are about to annex to your bottom, glance over your purse, monitor your transaction, and almost occupy the same place as you. AND IT IS NORMAL. They may not be interested in you of course; you feel their breath nevertheless. This is Turkey, I remind myself, don’t be even slightly mad; they cannot put a practical distance between their body and others at the cashier; it is a line and they think that if they don’t close the ranks with the person in line they’d lose it. Perhaps we were taught to process ‘being in line’ so well. Elsewhere, this would be considered minor harassment; one cannot attach their belly to another person’s back, slightly push the person in front with their purse or hand and not anticipate a warning. Here, all this happens in a dreamy state of acceptance and flow. I ask myself if the unaffected is ludicrous. Maybe I am wrong; the lack of personal distance and the deafness in the mediocrity of a line is not the same as the colonizing volume of speaker-subject because they have found someone who attentively take notes of their words in a face-to-face encounter to seek meaning for an act, and to take them seriously.

I survived both such lack of distance and such volume during my fieldwork. I think it was the end of 2015 and early 2016, man on the street in Istanbul was so busy with his own troubled mind that he did not look where he was going. Crash was unavoidable. A cell phone was not always part of the scene; you would see persons talking to themselves once in a while, and they were not street figures at all. I would circulate the same corner or the sidewalk, waiting for my interviewee, looking for a good moment to document a performance… all that made me pause and wait in the street. The man on the street would come and bump into others; I’d see the whole thing. Startled at first, then I would think if something is broken in the communication to the ‘translocal’ space. Sometimes, the person behind me would speed up and crash into me walking, cursing at me. Was İ the object that interrupted a projectile?! Troubles of the man who survives a hard time in the economy, I’d think. Then came in the construction trucks. In neighborhoods like Kadıköy or Göztepe, those trucks carried earth and dig to and from the construction sites.  They had to go fast; they did not know how to manage dire streets and ran over a few people in their own neighborhoods – those not alert enough to escape them. Drivers were not familiar to the path they tread. Victims were usually teenagers, young women, old women, women who did not know to anticipate a sneak attack from the truck. Truck-ran-over-civilian ‘incidents’ filled news and papers, accompanied by lots of frustration, and injustice. I bet there are still people who do not buy into how such a surreal thing could happen repeatedly. Meanwhile, the subcontractor-driver was quite unaffected, failing to respect the (slower) movement around it, and synced out from the surroundings. The unaffected does not have a good concept of its whereabouts, it is simply affected by the need to go.

See more:
bell hooks. 1997. Wounds of Passion: a writing life. Henry Holt & Company.
Ben Anderson. 2006. Becoming and being hopeful: towards a theory of affect. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2006, volume 24, pages 733-752
Ozan Zeybek. 29 June 2018. ‘Köpek sevince hayvansever olunmuyor, endüstriyel hayvancılıkta da sistematik şiddet var‘, Interview at Yeşil Gazete. https://yesilgazete.org/blog/2018/06/29/kopek-sevince-hayvansever-olunmuyor-endustriyel-hayvancilikta-da-sistematik-siddet-var