Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Links: Animism, Absorption

E-Flux journal is running a special issue on animism. From Anselm Franke's introduction:
A ghost is haunting modernity—the ghost of animism. It awaits us everywhere when we step outside modern reason’s cone of light, outside its firmly mapped order, when approaching its frontier zones and “outside.” We find it in the imagined darkness of modernity’s outside, where everything changes shape and the world is reassembled from the fragments that reason expels from its chains of coherences.

The task is to bring those constitutive others at the “dark” side of modern reason—like “animism,” but also the “imaginary,” the “negative,” “otherness,” or even “evil”—back into the relational diagram of modernity. To take those universalized sites of otherness that receive names such as “a universal tendency of humankind” or even its “origin,” and bring them back into history, would be perhaps the only way to account for the relational constitution of the present, to face the sorcery of its double binds. To embark upon this task is thus to understand these are never given “universals” of the modern, but its very relational products. They are the sites that modern history is silent about, to the extent that the very narrative of the “the modern” is built upon this silence as its fundament. The narrative-imaginary vacuum of the present is the direct outcome of this silence. This silence tells us that it is actually not animism, but modernity that is the ghost—halfway between presence and absence, life and death. And the future grand narratives of modernity may well speak of this ghost from the perspective of its other, from its “animist” side.
Neuroanthropology has a guest post by Neely Myers on The Neuroanthropology of Embodiment, Absorption, and Dissociation. I've been reading on this kind of thing since the counter-cultural psychedelic 60s. Discussions of trance, Gongfu, meditation, possession, music, etc.

Here's an anecdote from the late Leonard Bernstein. He was once talking to conducting students at Tanglewood about how he had to learn to bring himself under control. As a young conductor he once got so wrapped up in conducting -- I think it was a Tchaikovsky symphony -- that we was afraid he was having a heart attack. So, he's had to restrain himself.
I don't know whether any of you have experienced that but it's what everyone in the world is always searching for. When it happens in conducting, it happens because you identify so completely with the composer, you've studied him so intently, that it's as though you've written the piece yourself. You completely forget who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there. You just make it up as though you never heard it before. Because you become that composer.

I always know when such a thing has happened because it takes me so long to come back. It takes four or five minutes to know what city I'm in, who the orchestra is, who are the people making all that noise behind me, who am I? It's a very great experience and it doesn't happen often enough. Ideally it should happen every time, but it happens about as often in conducting as in any other department where you lose ego. Schopenhauer said that music was the only art in which this could happen and that art was the only area of life in which it could happen. Schopenhauer was wrong. It can happen in religious ecstasy or meditation. It can happen in orgasm when you are with someone you love.
From Helen Epstein, Music Talks: Conversations with Musicians, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1987, p. 52.

I quote similar passages from a number of contemporary musicians, from different genres, in a post, It Shook Me, the Light, just around the corner.


  1. I find the absorption thing interesting from a drama perspective. Some ethnographic enquiry would be interesting here as their is a huge gulf on this issue I think. Expect a major differences between those who endorse the method approach and those who don't.

    Would be interesting to see differences between Europe and the States as well. Stylistically method approach is far more suited for film and T.V. Training in Europe concentrates on techniques needed for the stage.

    Remember years ago working with a method actor where masks were involved. He found it interesting that he used facial expressions behind the mask and thought that this emotion got through to the audience and the way he became totally absorbed in his role was helpful.

    My training in physical theatre stemmed from Jacques Lecoq so for me working in a mask you're face is kept totally expressionless as it helps focus you're attention fully on expressing emotion through the body (the part the audience can actually see and read in a non-mystical way). My thoughts on his comments at the time were somewhat harsh.

    Not strongly anti- realist, as a style method can work well in T.V. and film, the technique method approach uses I think are somewhat mystical and ill suited for the stage where realism often looks unreal, movement and voice requires a tremendous amount of technique. In order to make it believable you have to move and project in very unnatural ways.
    The thought of becoming the part strikes me as not an accurate way of describing what you do.

    I admire many method actors and what they do but never very impressed by what they say and how they explain what they do.

  2. Most interesting, this masks or faces bit. And classic. I've noticed that some instrumentalists, and vocalists for that matter, will move and contort their bodies quite a bit while others will be impassive. But either style can produce compelling music.

    I've just run up a post where I quote Stanislavski.

  3. Style varies technique does not. Not sure but I strongly suspect this is a technique thing.

    Its one of the first things you are taught not to do.

    Mime is not my strong point but it came across like the mime equivalent of penguin acting (default style of inexperienced or untrained actors; stress causes forearms to stick rigidly to you're ribs, the only movement you are capable of is a lower arm style flapping movement, stress also raises the shoulders so you are left with no neck and you make a strange constricting croaking noise as you struggle to try and project.

    I watched a politician doing this with some pleasure last year she was unfortunately wearing a bright yellow feathered coat and looked like a giant budgie trying to take off.

    Universal default acting style.