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Session 8: 'Kinaesthetics'

Professor Sue Jones (Emeritus Professor of English, University of Oxford) Gestural Remains: Confinement, Narrative, and Kinesthetics from Noverre to Samuel Beckett’s “Residua”


Mark Nixon identified the ‘Residua’ as texts produced during this discrete period of experimentation in Samuel Beckett’s prose writing, beginning in 1964 and continuing with a a series of short texts “that concentrates on the workings of the imagination in order to construct geometrically defined ‘closed spaces’, in which human figures are placed or rather arranged.” Beckett experiments radically with what might constitute the confinement by geometry of “the gestural”. Throughout the ‘Residua’ Beckett imagines the subject placed during her/his "last moments" in a series of geometrically designed solids. These are apocalyptic habitats, with humans trapped within severely limited spaces. The inhabitants move, sometimes hardly at all, but gesturing in minutely delineated trajectories - for which in fact there is no end, and no way out, only endless repetition (répétition) in a kind of Dantean Limbo. 

The imagining of the designed gesture of figures, not just the positioning of bodies, within the confines of a geometrically constructed space, and an imagining of such movement as a mathematically calibrated form of action, executed with absolute precision of pace and rhythm, constitutes an important aspect of Beckett’s representation of the subject in all these works. In fact his apparently arbitrary turn to the choreographic here supports an (often unacknowledged) political strain. When we consider Beckett’s “borrowing” from classical geometries in these texts in relation to early modern dance theory we illuminate a common philosophical tension of authoritarian imposition of form and figure (on the social group), with the individual pathos of human expression. In a bizarre way, in spite of their obsessively mathematical utterances, Beckett’s radical texts express through minute gestures, the very meaning of lyricism, and of the ‘passion of humanity’ that the eighteenth-century dance theorist, Noverre had demanded when he asked for a shift away from the stale ornamentation of balletic posing to the practice of narrative in ballet d'action. 

Professor Christopher Reed (Distinguished Professor of English and Visual Culture, Pennsylvania State University) “If You Say Run, I’ll Run with You”: the Case for Kinaesthetic Empathy

What do we mean by gesture? Why do we mean by gesture? If the first question offers an occasion to endorse the expansion of the term from traces of hand or arm movements to the kinesthetic responses on the scale of the entire body, the second question, more provocatively, challenges to proscriptions against identification across demographic boundaries of sex and sexuality, ethnicity and race. This paper invokes the history of the concept of “kinesthetic empathy” as it moved from nineteenth-century German philosophy to mid-twentieth century dance theory, to twenty-first century discussions of mirror neurons, to trace a trajectory from queer identifications with David Bowie – his body, his movements, his sensibility as performed live in concert and in what have been argued were the first music videos – to the contemporary multi-media artist Jacolby Satterwhite, whose digitized, video-game inflected installations display and invite kinesthetic engagement across boundaries within the human and between the human and the technological. Throughout, the focus is on the second question: why should gesture take its place as a crucial mode of meaning-making that brings artists and audiences into states of empathy.

Florence Peake (dancer, choreographer, visual artist) FACTUAL ACTUAL

I will present my latest solo work FACTUAL ACTUAL Ensemble (touring to SPG, Fruitmarket and Towner Gallery) which comprises of a 50-metre painting generated from dance and movement workshops with community groups, and a performance work using 7 large gestural and figurative canvases (3- 5 metres each). I shall show a film of the Factual Actual performance, alongside a brief talk and performance demonstration of some of the gestural actions behind the work. I will consider how it parodies and comments on the history of the white male canon of painting, as well as what the range of mark-making and gesture does in different movements of art through performance.

(Originally commissioned by the National Gallery). 

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