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The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist Forum

The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist Forum


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welcome to the forum
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: //2005-11-19 10:39:13 :
Link to this Comment: 17074

Maybe neurobiologists have something to learn from art historians? And vice versa? Maybe there are useful ways to learn from one another somewhere in between evanescent casual conversations in the halls and formal presentations and tomes in libaries? And maybe something in the Conversation About Proprioception, the "I-function", Body Art and .... Story Telling makes you think of something that might be useful to others? Whether you're an art historian, a neurobiologist or ... something else entirely? Join in, and let's see what we can learn from the different places we are and the different things we work with.


tears and epistemology
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2005-11-21 20:27:18 :
Link to this Comment: 17125

What strikes me, amid all this, are two main things:

Do you think otherwise?

Do you think the working on us of the sort of
performance and conceptual art you attend to suggests otherwise?


proprioception revisted
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2005-12-11 10:12:08 :
Link to this Comment: 17373

One of the things that didn't sit quite right w/ me, in this Conversation about Proprioception, was the use of the term "proprioception" itself, to describe viewers' sense that "something was amiss" in the gallery where Burden was performing White Light/White Heat. A remarkable review essay in today's New York Times Book Review (Barry Gewen's "State of the Art," 12/11/05), begins and ends w/ mention of Burden's work. It reminded me of my nagging sense of the mis-use of the term--and provoked me to return here to suggest an alternative.

I think what Kristine was talking about, in her analysis of the experience of the spectators, wasn't at all proprioception (technically and still usefully an internal awareness of the position and movement of one's own body) but rather an awareness of the position and movement of others' bodies (an awareness once, and still, key to survival). This is, in turn, primary in what Gewen terms "the necessarily... social interaction" that is art: "not only a space for the individual to realize himself in knowing himself, but also a space to enable others to know themselves, as well as a space to evoke the bonds that exist between artist and spectator in their common self-awareness."

I'd like to propose another term, here, for this shared sense of self-awareness.
A little time digging around in the OED showed that
"proprioceptor" results from combining proprius (own) and reception,
"extrioceptor" from combining externus (exterior) and reception,
"interoceptor" from combining interior and reception.
Moreover, the suffix in "other" originally signalled "a spatial sense,"
expressed "the contrast between two or more things with regard to their location."
So how 'bout replacing "proprioception," to describe our (uneasy!) awareness of one another, in relation to ourselves, with an alternative, something like
"androception"?
"otherception"?
"therception"?


update
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: //2006-01-10 15:40:02 :
Link to this Comment: 17585

Kristine's latest is now available (somewhat belatedly, for which I apologize), and includes responses to some of the questions here in the forum.


thinking with the blood...and shuddering without e
Name: adalke@bry
Date: //2006-01-14 18:33:12 :
Link to this Comment: 17619

This is maybe/probably bringing coals to Newcastle, but...
Kristine: do you know Elin Diamond's essay on "The Shudder of Catharsis in Twentieth-Century Performance"? Reading your latest addition to the conversation about proprioception and the "I-function" put me in mind of Diamond's suggestion that the discomfort produced by contemporary performance art is unending. She focuses on forms of postmodern performance that, she says, leave "no space for representation," and calls them "acts of total expenditure that refuse the separation of performance and the 'true-real': though at some point the performance will end, what is suggested in shuddering without end: permanent catharsis."

What I hear most loudly/clearly in your own account is the very similar claim that performance art refuses us the conventional pleasures of theater, insofar as they were defined as the indulgence of watching others go through melodrama: it forces our participation, our emotional involvement, in what is happening on stage=in our lives (you say, "the live presentation of traumatic subject matter...connects observers to viewers...transforming them...into witnesses," that, for example, "Burden's actions...put the viewer in difficult situations of responsibility, decision-making, and human interconnection").

Where I get confused, though (can you help w/ this?) is where you insist on distinguishing, and preserving, a "reality" that exists "outside" of the stories we make about it: "the event, an action...of violation, destruction," the "facts" that "are not simply 'stories.'" You say, for instance, that "one of the deepest ironies of this particular historical round of radical relativism is that it appeared on the horizon just at the moment when identity politics...emerged, thereby negativing unique claims for equality and agency by reducing each to mere competing stories." But what happens, in this context, to the "reality" of the "new paradigm for interpersonal agency" which you say is offered by performance and body art? Why (for instance) might we want to perpetuate an atrocity in performance, to insist that viewers re-experience it, rather than allowing it to pass out of memory? Why create more victims?

I've been at work, the past few weeks, revising a course I have long taught here on the "big books" of 19th century American literature. This coming semester, I'm going to use these texts to invite students to think w/ me about emotion--what it is, what triggers it, how we respond to it, how we display/enact it, what role it plays in our reading and our thinking (as well as what roles thinking and reading play in our feelings). In the course of preparation for this class, I've come across Arlie Hochshild's book on The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, which draws on Lionel Trilling's work to say that

there have been two major turning points in the public evaluation of expressed feeling. The first was the rise (and subsequent fall) of the value that people put on sincerity. The second was a rise in the value placed on authenticity....during the sixteenth century...guile became an important tool for class advancement. The art of acting, of making avowals not in accord with feeling, became a useful tool for taking advantage of new opportunities. As mobility became a fact of urban life, so did...people's understanding that guile was a tool. Sincerity...came to denote a "simple person, unsophisticated, and a bit on the dumb side"....the present day value on "authenticity" or "natural" feeling may also be a cultural response to a social occurrence...the rise of the corporate use of guile and the organized training of feeling to sustain it.....we place more value now on artless, unmanaged feeling....gifts are becoming commodities, exchange rates set by corporations" (185-198) Hochshild goes on to study the effect of "emotional labor" (like that performed by flight attendants, for instance); but what she made clear to me en route is the (entirely non-paradoxical) way in which accomplished performance provokes an investment in sincerity and authenticity; a position inevitably evokes its opposite. This would mean that it is not the "paradox" you claim (for instance) that "the traumatized are...the most creative people on the planet," any more than it is "ironic" that "identity politics" and "radical relativism" appeared at the same time: that dialectic is both inevitable and productive.

Quite a bit of material I've been reading for the course also addresses your "suggested future topics," particularly those of the "I-function" and the "self" in the "human-animal and animal." I've found J.M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals especially useful in prodding my thinking through these matters (and would be curious to hear your response--as someone who does a lot of work with animals--to these ideas):

there is no limit to the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another. There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination....Descartes's 'Cogito ergo sum' implies that a living being that does not do what we call thinking is somehow second-class. To thinking, cogitation, I oppose fullness, embodiedness, the sensation of being--not a consciousness of yourself as a kind of ghostly reasoning machine thinking thoughts, but on the contrary...a heavily affective sensation of being a body with limbs that have extension in space, of being alive to the world. This fullness contrasts starkly with Descartes's key state, which has an empty feel to it: the feel of a pea rattling around in a shell....Reason looks to me suspiciously like the being of human thought, worse than that, like the being of one tendency in human thought. Reason is the being of a certain spectrum of human thinking....we are examining...the specialism of a rather narrow self-regenerating intellectual tradition (35, 33, 23, 25) Coetzee's book includes commentary, some of which quite pointedly reminds us of the need to keep feeling and thinking in play w/ one another. Peter Singer argues, for instance, that "we can't take our feelings as moral data, immune from rational criticism....Goring said, "I think with my blood.' See where it led him" (89).

So: where does all this lead us? Can the unending shuddering of performance art lead us somehow into sympathetic imagination of others' beings? Mightn't the capacity to share those stories enable us to re-make the world in which we all live?


No atrocity perpetrated here.
Name: Kristine S
Date: //2006-01-29 12:18:10 :
Link to this Comment: 17838

Anne,

I do follow Elin Diamond's work with great interest. The comment you quote - that performance art leaves "no space for representation," suggests that performance is not re-presentational (i.e., metaphoric) is is only metonymic in so far as Diamond claims that it "refuse(s) the separation of performance and the 'true-real'" thereby leading to "shuddering without end." When confronted by a body in action, many do feel that it has no metaphorical dimensions because it can be so confrontational. But one of the great lessons that I learned in Vienna in the late 1970s through my friendship with Edith Adam (Rudolf Schwarzkogler's partner, who was present at the time of his death and who had witnessed countless actions by the Viennese Action artists) is that one needs to step away from what one has witnessed and let it come to fruition in the imagination. Only through time and distance does the totality of metaphor/metonymy become manifest. It helps a lot, too, to actually talk to performance artists and know them personally because then it is quite obvious that what occurs in the performative space is metonymically connected to the artist him/herself but metaphoric in terms of his/her actual life. Performance, thus, is and is not life. This is one of the most difficult aspects of this medium to keep in mind.

You suggest that " performance art refuses us the conventional pleasures of theater." I would not put it quit that way, as there is a lot of theater in performance. Rather it confuses the line between theater and life in a way that most (but certainly not all) theater does not. I do not think of performance art as a whole as parallel to melodrama, but of course some actions may be just that, and intentionally so.

As for your question that I insist on a "'reality' that exists 'outside' of the stories we make about it," what I refered to are actual events in time - I was speaking about history, which is - of course - a story about those events that have occurred in time. All I was tryign to point out is that there are stories and there are events and that we need to negotiate between them, never forgetting that they are not commensurate.

You ask, futhermore, two questions: a) "Why (for instance) might we want to perpetuate an atrocity in performance, to insist that viewers re-experience it, rather than allowing it to pass out of memory?" b) "Why create more victims?" My answer to both questions is that I would never sanction (even if I would theorize) the perpetration of an atrocity; and I know of no atrocities committed in the name of performance art.

People often jump to such conclusions when thinking about what is possible in performance art, confusing the fact that artists put their bodies on the line in art, while still being human being in life. Meaning, life goes on after performance, life that artists live as people who abhore attrocity, just like everyone else.

Your course, by the way, sounds terrific.


Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: //2006-08-08 10:37:18 :
Link to this Comment: 20137

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a proscenium arch, a horse's stall: self-defense?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2006-02-02 18:00:52 :
Link to this Comment: 17941

So my thoughts have been running in three (I think only three, but let's see...)
related (...I think related) directions:

*Some* performance art--I take it the sort that most intrigues Kristine?--re-performs atrocity, demonstrates the constant impingement of life's dangers on that temporarily homeostatic/ carefully put-together thing we call "self." And now I think I begin to understand why Kristine so prefers the term "I-function" to that of "storyteller": because it emphasizes the self-integrating aspect of this activity.

And it does so in a world where, well, "anything can happen." As my student also said, "performance art can show us that we are bodies in space... to control atrocity in the environment of performance art and to act out what very may well happen to each of our bodies can be terrifying but...also oddly cathartic."

Such performances might be said to explore the multiple ways in which the boundaries we construct to keep ourselves out of harm's way (a proscenium arch, a horse's stall) do not--will not--hold.


update
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: //2006-03-06 21:18:40 :
Link to this Comment: 18463

Some further thoughts about the I-function and its relation to both proprioception and the story telller. With illustrations. And an effort to agree on the compatibility of "objectivism" and "postmodernism", at least so we can get on with thinking about the I-function and body/performance art.


taking one's own stories with an appropriate dose
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: //2006-03-14 23:08:12 :
Link to this Comment: 18529

Some further fiddling with those further thoughts.

So much for the promise to avoid military metaphors. Describing the

"'I-function' embedded within the story teller,
in turn embedded in the nervous system,
itself embedded in a body and a world..."
evokes nothing so much as that slick new public relations concept of being Embedded... in Iraq: a practice that allows greater access and immediacy of reporting, along with greater risks to reporters' lives and their ability to be objective (as well as raising serious questions about the possibility of objectivity altogether). All that's appropriate for the discussion of the central feature of story telling here: what early Quakers described as water which always tasted of the pipes, and a useful reminder that all ideas have legs: that is, that they come to us through the agency of particular bodies/brains in material forms with a certain shape, smell, taste, texture, sound....

...which means that in, teasing out the role of the I-function, it's probably important not to valorize (by contrast) the directness of the perception of the unconscious. It is not only the I-function that has no direct information either about the body or the world. Neither does the unconscious: all the information it gets is mediated, comes into the self via neurons that are material. It is for that reason (among others) that the "I-function" can function as "final authority in the realm of describing its own experiences," but "not in that of understanding them," i.e., either in explaining their sources or predicting future behavior from them.

And it is for that reason that not only a "coherent state of self," but an awareness of the (potential? always barely contained?) incoherence of self only comes into existence when the "specialist modules" which comprise the unconscious report to the story teller--a story teller that may indeed include itself in its stories, and thereby continually unsettle them. (For more on this, see the great book review in the NYTimes this week, 3/5/06, on "Irreconcilable Differences," which explains how we can "shuffle our self-classifications": "Human nature isn't finished with human individuality, or with itself....the evolutionary logic that makes us different from one another will gradually make us different from ourselves.")