Aug. 20, 1996 Sep. 17, 1996 (a)

Column Index - Sep. 3, 1996

a) The cyborg age and the crisis of the butoh dance
Hidenaga OOTORI

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Donna Haraway and the Cyborg

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The Cyborg Manifesto

The cyborg age and the crisis of the butoh dance

Hidenaga OOTORI

In 1985, Donna Haraway wrote "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" in which she sentenced the organic body to death. Now that the physical body is becoming even closer to a cyborg, Donna Haraway's sentence may be strongly achieving a reality. "The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-Oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor...", says Haraway. Her words may sound like an invitation to empower yourself to a schizophrenic world, but as she admits, her world view is a feminist reponse to Michel Foucautt's philosophy.

People want to believe that everything originated from a perfect whole, but it is only a myth that the origin is sublime (we call this the "origin story"). In the book, "Nietzche, La Genealogi, L'Histoire" (1971), Foucautt writes, if we were to historically trace back the origin, what we will find would not be the essence nor something solid that existed before anything else, and that what is there is, rather, a spontaneity, a minute deviation, a mistake or miscalculation. It says that that is why we must maintain the happenings in their individual dispersed state.

Donna Haraway incorporates this kind of philosophy into the strategy of the physical body. However, if the organic body has been exiled together with the Western origin story, what should the body on the stage, that seeks a unified totality, do? How should the body that has been theorized and practiced by Grotowski, and this idea of the body characterized as avant garde since the 1960's, be criticized?

The current state of the butoh dance

If we were to talk about butoh today, would it not be in the above context, for butoh is considered to be at the other extreme of a cyborg-like existence. The butoh probably originated from a style in which people moved and stomped their feet on the earth, perhaps to call back the spirits of the earth. The butoh, as Grotowski puts it, is closely connected to the physical movements that take place when a tribe tries to awaken the spiritual energy. In a sense, the butoh is not post modern, but rather, it is an attempt to mark the discord between the modern and the pre-modern on the body.

That is how the body in butoh became magical and similar to a psychic medium. Grotowski also said, "Art is...a process where the darkness within us is gradually brought into the light." (from "Towards a Poor Theatre"). Grotowski's project which attempted to awaken the truth of oneself that appears after the mask of life is torn off, in other words, bringing out the darkness into light, was most definitely equal to the concept of the "dark butoh".

Having said that, I immediately must contradict myself, because people are not so innocent anymore. A dance festival held in Hakushu this summer offers one challenge to the dancers. Dancers/performers must perform their action in broad daylight.

The dancers/performers must achieve something under the daylight, as if to ban the mythical illusion and the myth itself which states that a mysterious existence will be born when light is reflected on things that stir in the darkness. They are basically free to use anywhere they like. However, the choice and decision of where the dancer/performer uses and what he/she will do is the key question. What kind of decision really has to be made?

The bodies made for butoh and the possibilities for the butoh

Thus, a body made for butoh is driven away to a place where self-sufficiency is denied, but, for example, if we were to see the end of the myth such as the release of energy in the body of Min Tanaka -- who bashed his body onto a concrete wall many times, each time making a dull sound -- we may be able to see a potential for a new idea of the body in the new development of the butoh, which will not be absorbed into a self-sufficient uniformity of the body.

I often use the phrase, "body with AIDS". This type of body is one of the models that appears at the end of a unified image of the body, and that body is, specifically, more in the form of a cyborg. The future possibilities for the butoh are perhaps most reliant on how it becomes involved with such a body today.

[Hidenaga OOTORI/Theater Critic]

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