At the end of 2008 I had the abstract for the following paper accepted for presentation at the intercreate.orgSCANZ Symposium, New Plymouth, NZ Aotearoa 7-8 February 2009.
SCANZ is now an annual fixture on the international map of practitioners in the Arts, Sciences and Literature, so I presented this paper to a diverse audience from Holland, Brazil, France, Germany, the UK, the USA, Australia and NZ Aotearoa. My presentation was comprised of my reading to the symposium audience at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, my avatar, Rollo Kohime simultaneously (one sound channel for both venues) reading to an audience in my Second Life Wellington Railway Station (my SL avatar is now voice-enabled and the station was projected onto the main wall of the conference room, approx 10mx5m) and a secondary screen showing selected videos of my dance practice - the first was referenced specifically in my paper.
Negotiating the Parameters of Missed Conversations in Urban Spaces
This paper represents a research strand of my AUT Masters in Art and Design project (majoring in dance and video), ‘In the Company of Strangers'. Indeterminacy as a force, responsible for sustaining in us the dynamic of the stranger, is explored in encounters between people in urban spaces. Concepts centering on disjunct-conversations and departure are being investigated through my research-practice which, as a scrutinizing lens, attests to the contemporary theories which reside in the states of 'becoming' evidenced in selected writings of Henri Bergson and Brian Massumi.
This project posits the formation of a new Urban Myth: Experienced through the vehicle of the roaming body, our engagements, meetings and encounters in urban spaces frequently manifest as disjunct, ‘missed conversations’. I am asserting that this is due to the inevitability in our existence of indeterminacy occurring as a significant mediator of our behaviour. Indeterminacy implies motion and emerges, as Massumi so ably asserts, through ‘… an unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary …’. We, all of us, are constantly being drawn away – always either approaching or embracing involuntarily, a state of ‘Leaving’ which co-mingles with and unerringly erodes our efforts to engage with another in the here and now.
This paper begins with the notion of the Stranger identity and 'Belonging' in contemporary urban environments and closes with the event of ‘Leaving’. Between these manifestations lies a gulf of uneasy indeterminacy, evident in the ways in which our choices are made, our actions which appear to prevail, the spaces and times which we occupy and displace and our interactions with one another. The idea of belonging is central to our existence and to our understanding of how we and others give meaning to our lives. Our sense of identity is founded upon social interactions that indicate our allegiance to particular communities or groups, through shared beliefs, values or practices. Yet over the generations, has our pursuit of personal autonomy robbed us of that cherished sense of belonging and is there still a more subtle, insidious force acting upon us? In my research practice I am positing a new Urban Myth. My contention is that all our exchanges, whether they be either apparently resolved engagements, casual encounters or missed conversations with people and places, are governed by the agency of indeterminacy evident through a continual Leaving of these exchanges. That is Leaving with a capital ''L'. I am suggesting that ‘Leaving’, as a point of separation is a phenomenon. Leaving is not merely a point of departure, but an ingredient central to that process we call change. For us, as creatures of change, movement away seems to be inevitable and this ensures that there are constantly present, small, overlooked dramas with their attendant poignancies expressed within the simplest, most mundane, everyday dynamics between people and places. I am suggesting that this behaviour is involuntary, informs and mediates our respective realities, knows no cultural boundaries and occurs everywhere, all the time, although I am concerned with its manifestation in urban spaces. I do not consider this notion to be negative or depressing. Rather, I find it compelling, capable of propelling us into re-evaluations of who we are and how, as sentient beings, we conduct our lives through a perceptual reality composite, caught up, despite ourselves in a perpetual state of change which is centred ultimately, in this universal movement away.
In the text, Negotiating difference or being with strangers, John Allen (2000) informs us that, ‘In his classic essay on “The Stranger” published in 1908, Simmel tried to convey through this figure, a range of ambivalences which have come to haunt us in the practices of negotiating difference’. Allen is alluding to the paradoxes attendant within those perceptions when we try to position ourselves as social familiars, leaving unknowns outside our circle, as Strangers and therefore, 'Other'. In my sphere of enquiry, Simmel`s words are provocative, not so much for how society functions, but more specifically,for how those individuals within spatial/societal structures function and relate to one another. In defining or ‘negotiating difference’, Simmel adopted a 'host' figure as our familiar self. The figure of the ‘Stranger’ captures the paradoxical experience of what it means to interact with someone who is both, perhaps nearby in a spatial sense, yet remote and therefore ‘strange’ to us in a social sense, while the converse of this may also be true. The Stranger, then, is someone who is involved with us, yet removed, in a sense virtual, spatially and socially as an accepted member of our group or situation. Personna who we label within our host-field as both familiars and strangers, constantly come and go. However, as I will endeavour to discuss, we are all susceptible to Leaving as a given which brings in its wake, its own estrangement. Yet, Simmel`s 'host/stranger' binary definition begs that all-important third dimension, which I maintain can be defined through the state of indeterminacy. As indeterminants we all of us depart despite ourselves, from every engagement we make, fleeting or involved.
A definition of the term, 'Indeterminacy'.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which is founded in quantum mechanics, asserts that both the position and momentum of a given particle cannot be determined simultaneously.'The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant and vice versa'. (Heisenberg,1927)
In other words it could be said that one is unable to record scientifically, evidence of a given body that is both static and moving at the same time. If one cannot measure something, does this make the non-finding absolute? Is this definition simply a finite, modernist Truism or an opportunity for a poststructuralist Truant? Is the definition deconstructable? Given that we register the activity, is it possible perhaps to measure empirically, through the senses, this activity in one body taking place in two situations at once? Despite the scientific, physical non-finding, does this mean that one`s 'attention' cannot be in two places at once? Or one`s desires, intent, perception? I suspect that this is not the case. I am suggesting that through acknowledging and assuming in ourselves a state of 'the being-in-change', it is possible to transfer ones presence in the form of intent, from 'here' to 'there' simultaneously and that there is physical, visible evidence for this in scenarios involving engagement between people in the street.
My personna/presence here, now, is divided between this space and this Second Life space. To the people behind their avatars in my Second Life Wellington Railway Station, who can hear my voice and see my avatar moving, the collective personna constituted by myself and this audience I suggest, is actually virtual and in that extension of this reality, my avatar-self in Second Life, is real. So at this point in time, we have an equivalency as analogues in two places at once - the constituents of a blended-reality.
To illustrate dual presence through an indeterminate intent - in this instance, in departure; in the first video clip shown here, the couple in the spotlight conduct an animated conversation in the street. Without being privy to their dialogue, we have no way of knowing what they are discussing. We could speculate, but I am fascinated by their body language, their neutral proximity to one another, the signals they unconsciously transmit about the way they are feeling with regard to their engagement with one another and how this evolves through the duration of the meeting. If I apply a non-judgmental appraisal to their situation, in the last minute prior to their separating, although the woman eventually says goodbye, physically walks away and leaves the engagement, the man appears to have already departed from the conversation. He shuffles, he checks his cell phone, he hides behind his hands, he waves his arms uncertainly and looks around. He checks his watch. Eye contact decreases. No longer is he fully present.
When she does finally leave, his reaction is marginally interested – because his roaming self has already left. His ‘Leaving’ has crept into and hijacked the meeting, while ostensibly, they were still engaged. It would be easy for us to say, 'But he has simply switched off'. I am not disputing this. I am asking, 'Why?' I am suggesting the whole story is more interesting. Indeterminacy is embedded here. The only difference between this and other engagements is that in this case, the slip in the present (now past) is visible. Can this constitute evidence of a simultaneity of presence? Here, yet not here? Both people left. Movement away occurred in both parties, even though ironically, one of them left first by staying behind. Is this occurrence actual or merely a point of perception? (Is a point of perception no less actual?)
In a second definition of indeterminacy, Brian Massumi, (2002) in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, tells us that a body in motion is held within an ever-changing process of movement relative to its own already non-static position in space, ('... its own non-present potential to vary ...'). Massumi, (in a vein which is similar to Henri Bergson`s sense of 'becoming') maintains that the only 'real' relation is that of a body to its own indeterminacy, (... its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise that it is, in any here and now.') Does Massumi`s interpretation and my demonstration here, refute the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, despite the difficulty in being able to measure two presences (or one divided presence) simultaneously? In contrast, although not entirely, William Wordsworth, articulating indeterminacy as an aesthetic, made room in any insubstantial meaning or questionable reliablility of an event, by replacing it with imagination deferring to a potential for interpretation. He called it, ‘Something evermore about to be’.
Indeterminacy and the roaming body – in the contexts of this phrase, perhaps we have no way of forecasting how our connections will be determined when we meet someone in the street. Will we even engage? What might comprise the least element of a meeting between two people in the street? Somehow though, either sooner or later, (or, in the light of what we have just seen - sooner and later), without always recognizing it we are always leaving. Allowing for the variables within which we carry out our departure, the only non-variable is that we will actually depart from meetings which resemble islands in the stream - places of temporary purchase within change.
In my videoed dance work, I am concerned with the investigation of what I will call the spaces 'between recognized content’ in our lived experience. In exploring what may comprise engagement and conversation on the street, I am not so much interested by what is being communicated, as what is being left out, due to what I identify as interpersonal terrain dominated by indeterminacy. I am interested how this uncertainty located within movement/change may influence or to a significant extent, govern the nature of dialogue in urban contexts. The videos playing here are expressions of small-conversations, sometimes missed, between the dancers and between the dancers and members of the public. The dance-work is supposed to be mildly interventionist in terms of how it affects the flow of commuters and catalyses a response – creating for the people walking past, a private tableau made public between two people, a virtual, half-witnessed-half-remembered-later moment, representative of the myriad of disjunct dialogues and discreet micro-dramas within scenes of departure which may occur, in these kinds of public spaces. Responses are curious, concerned, mystified, guarded, warm and cold but above all, removed from us as strangers - as we are removed from them.
The anthropologist Marc Augé (2004), offers us another perspective on belonging and what I shall describe as the results of a societal, collective maturation of autonomy. In his definitive text, ‘non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity’, Augé succinctly documents the profound dysfunctional changes (relative to the fracturing of identities within community and the dislocation of community itself) to our westernized societies. These dischordant developments were precipitated not so much by the nature of our thinking about architecture, but by the architecture of our thinking about our behaviours in our habitats. Augé rigorously interrogates the substance and resultant implications of our living spaces and environments and ultimately, finds them wanting. His commentary questions the extent to which we are still in possession of spaces which we might define as 'places' - whether we still belong in those spaces that we frequent the most, or whether they have become, in his words, 'non-lieux' or non-places: airports, railway stations, hypermarkets, filling-station forecourts, Ferry terminals ... or Ferrys.
Contrary to Augé`s assertion that places like airports are situated at the fore-front of non-lieux locales, John Di Stefano (Senior Lecturer at Massey University in Wellington) proposes a very different view in the description and categorizing of the airport as a socio-geographic space: In his acclaimed video, ‘Hub’ he suggests an alternative definition for the term 'belonging' - that the idea of ‘home’ and belonging is today perhaps more ideally expressed as ‘… a sense of being between places.’ (Di Stefano, quoted in Video Data Bank, 2001). Hub proposes that we consider the airport as a home-away-from-home and also a place of ‘dis-Appearance’ – a place of opportunity which entails a transformative process rather than simply vanishing. So rather than being a non-place, the inference here is that the airport becomes, ‘… a rich and complex respository of interlacing personal and political histories – a new space of belonging.’ di Stefano (2001) Clearly then, one persons sense of non-place is another`s place. But, is it not our search for personal and professional independence and the systems which provide for a more efficiently autonomous management of that independence that has for some, created a world of 'non-lieux' or non-places? It is interesting to note, too, that all these systems on a larger-than-life scale are orientated around the movement of populations, essentially articulating and perpetuating within arrivals, climates of departure. Leaving. Why not Arriving? Does not indeterminacy bring us to our arrivals just as surely as our departures? I am sure that it does. Arrival suggests a governance of some significance; a quiet triumph of navigation to a secure location, yet each arrival holds the seeds of the next departure, creating for us a pause, a sense of temporary settling; seen through this current contextual vision, arrival is itself only momentarily grasped and subsequently lost as a place in time and space which punctuates change, from which ultimately, we move away.
Within the parameters of this urban myth, the manifestation of indeterminacy suggests that ‘Leaving’ is a universal state over which we have no conscious control. Departure is that paradoxical frame of reference for us as humans which both, frees us from the constraints of our previous engagement while instilling perhaps, trace echoes of what has been left behind. For me, this creates poignancy - a pathos evident in the most mundane of departures, humanity-wide. Whether it be recognizably profound and measurably life-altering, or apparently occurring within the humdrum of the everyday, departures and the act of ‘leaving’ people and places of significance constantly colour our lives. Could it be that this unconscious facility that we unknowingly possess; Leaving as an ongoing, involuntary occurrence, is responsible for our departures, regardless of our own diagnostic sensing within a meeting or engagement with someone? Perhaps departure itself is the indeterminant driving factor here. A condition which affects us all, impinging upon and mediating our behaviour while for the most part, we remain in ignorance of its existence.
In 1927, Henri Bergson, who had previously been hailed as both, ‘the greatest thinker in the world’ and ‘the most dangerous man in the world’ (Mullarkey, 1999b) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been a major influence on the thinking of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas and Gilles Deleuze. Bergson is perhaps most widely known for his treatises on the concepts of time and becoming. His stance as a ‘process philosopher’ on ‘lived’ and ‘experienced’ time and space is particularly relevant for me: He was concerned with the actions which bridge or give rise to the manifestation of content. He pursued these intangible qualities binding content, concentrating on the unfolding process of the event itself.
But significantly, for this paper, Bergson`s thinking recognizes and traverses the territory occupied by indeterminacy and in so doing, transforms ‘being’ into ‘becoming’: If we take it that ‘Being’ can be defined as the descriptor typically given to those essential qualites of a thing that endure despite all temporary changes in appearance, reality can then be defined ontologically, by enquiry into the particular kind of “being” that a given entity has or expresses. ‘Becoming’ however, for Bergson, was and remains quite a different way of defining reality. The word describes an action rather than a static quality. It refers to a view of the world which is defined through motion which is continuous. So the only reality is constant change, flux, transformation – becoming. The things we perceive as ‘real’ and constant, reliable and set are outcomes relative to our respective perceptions. To quote Bergson,‘ … the qualities of matter are so many stable views that we take of its instability’. Bergson puts this very succinctly another way: '… rather than there being things which change', more accurately speaking, there is, '…change provisionally grasped as a thing'. Bergson (2005) This realignment of perspective may allow us to witness indeterminacy in-the-making, made visible in meetings between people on the street, governed in their actions by the phenomenon of departure.
In his 1939 Essay, Movement as Language, Len Lye stated:
Movement is the result of a feeling in one thing of strong difference from other things. Movement is always one thing moving away from other things—not toward. And the result of movement is to be distinct from other things: the result of movement is form. The history of any definite form is the movement of which the form is the result. When we look at something and see the particular shape of it we are looking at its after-life. Its real life is the movement by which it got to be that shape.
In Lye`s description of the world this observation shares similar territory to Bergson`s, maintaining that we live 'change' in a constant process of becoming and that we can only grasp and isolate moments provisionally within change itself.
Brian Massumi (2002) echoes this point of view:
When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition ... In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary. That relation, to borrow a phrase from Deleuze, is real but abstract … This is an abstractness pertaining to the transitional immediacy of a real relation – that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise that it is, in any here and now).
When I began my Masters study two years ago, my commencement point for research was to take and investigate the basic premise that the 'real' is influenced by the virtual, all the time and everywhere; that we experience moments which could be described as 'virtual' every day. I began to work in both Real Life and initially, quite cynically in Second Life and very quickly found out that the residents in Second Life who I interviewed, indignantly regarded the whole construct as very real. To these people (now myself included) Second Life is another facet of the Real. This notion is supported in Massumi`s exploration of the ‘‘indeterminacy’ of the body – the realities facing the body which are incomplete without the recognition of another, constantly simultaneously-generated virtual description of ‘now’.’12 Massumi posits that ‘this body’ is here, but also, ‘this presence and essentially when in motion, they are no longer with us, here, but ‘over there’, now ...' 13 My work focusses upon the nature of movement itself, which is inevitably coloured and controlled by what could be said to be a force outside almost everything, but which equally, is integral to all: Time.
Massumi suggests that the body in movement means accepting the body in its occupation of space and time, as a paradox: that there is an incorporeal dimension of the body itself. Of it, but not it. Indeterminate, coincident, but real and material. Massumi calls this echo a, ‘Fellow-travelling dimension of the same reality’, 14 A legitimate interpretation of identifiable alterity? In this time-based context, it could be said that the body is present but within its indeterminacy, the time-based embodiment of ‘body’ has already moved on. This assertion as a concept is interesting to consider in the context of my ‘in-transit’ dominated practice and offers a framework for speculation about the reasons for what often, are the expressions of truncated, disjunct forms of communication in the street. In a sense, one could say that the environment or ‘stage’ for my work, rather than a commuter-busy passageway, or Wellington Railway Station at rush-hour, is more accurately, the moving body itself. The body`s potential to vary suggests an alignment which juxtaposes yet subordinates ‘being’ to becoming. Our ontological presence can be defined by the idea that we are in a continual state of being/becoming – a time-based positioning. In qualifying his argument, Massumi paraphrases Deleuze in saying that the problem with dominant modes of cultural and literary theory is not that they are too abstract to grasp the solidity or corporeal fabric of the real. The problem is that these modes are not abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of what we take to be real. Which leads me to the previously mentioned state of blended-reality.
Mark Hansen, in Bodies in Code who sees the embodiment of function manifesting through the human body, acting as a kind of seismographic wand. Hansen maintains that: ‘… all reality is mixed reality’, Hansen quotes Brian Massumi who talks about the existence of the analogue as a transformative entity:
Always on arrival a transformative feeling of the outside, a feeling of thought sensation is the being of the analog(sic). This is the analog(sic) in a sense close to the technical meaning, as a continuously variable impulse or momentum that can cross from one qualitatively different medium into another. Like electricity into sound waves. Or heat into pain, Or light waves into vision. Or vision into imagination. Or noise in the ear into music in the heart. Or outside coming in. Variable continuity across the qualitatively different: continuity of transformation.(Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, 2002:135 in Hansen, 2006:5-6)
Through our internal analogue therefore, we possess the innate capacity to transform continuously, the many real and virtual realities of which our existence is comprised. The blended-reality paradigm can shift the fields of 'orthodox' perceptions which have, in the past, established existing modes of seeing and understanding reality: Hansen maintains that the reason why so many of us now operate in so-called virtual, metaverse worlds with apparent ease, is because we have always done so - we encounter without comment, a myriad of moments which we could describe as virtual every day in our 'real life' existence. The shift for us as 'analogue' where the process within us as humans which brings metaverse technologies like Second Life.com together with our natural perceptions, supports a function which expands the scope of our natural perception and integrates real-world and virtual realities to arrive at a more homogeonous blended-reality.
Rather than presenting the virtual as a completely technical simulacrum – a portal to a fully immersive, separate or fantasy world, the blended-reality paradigm regards it as just one more realm among others which can be accessed through our already embodied perception or our ability to enact - or, in the case of both Real and Second Life, to role-play. 'We are all in the same house, but using different rooms', Dharan Longley, a very good friend of mine said to me yesterday. So there is less emphasis here on the content and more emphasis on the ways in which we access that content.
I am working in Second Life as well as Real Life, not because I am intrigued by their differences where I recognize a separate virtual and real world, but because under the auspices of the blended-reality that I inhabit, I can perhaps more easily explore the interplay between Real Life where Second Life becomes a facet of the Real. Here I can converse, witness and belong as analogue, while making critical commentary upon yet another field of departure.
This section in brackets was not read at the conference due to time constraints:
[Points of Purchase
To contextualize my thinking, I need to continue with my case for 'belonging' before I can sensibly comment on its erosion. Over the last 200 years, Western Thought has created a dialectic which, I believe, impacts upon certain concepts concerned with the acquisition of autonomy within personal identity - that debate which seeks to synthesize the Self and the ‘other’; the implications of which may affect our ability to ‘belong’ in the here and now and consequently, to question a sense of lasting allegiance to any one place.
Is it possible to exercise a conscious control over our facility to belong? At which point does an autonomous state stand so resolved, itself independent and immune from the need to be a part of something greater? On the one hand, that late 17C and 18C set of collective Western values emerging through The Enlightenment, called upon individuals to think for themselves. In embracing this, we have since held that independence and thus the capacity for reason (which apparently, enables one to successfully stand alone) were to be our exemplars. This in turn has necessitated that the individual be able to separate from all that is externally imposed on them in order to evaluate and consider rationally, their ongoing condition: that of a sentient being, with the capacity to act autonomously. Yet it can be seen that perhaps self-autonomy, is divided: Since Georg Hegel, (1770-1831) major psychological accounts of the self have placed its dependence on the ‘other’ at the centre of formation and maintenance of the self. For Hegel, one needs the ‘other’ to recognize one's status as a self-directing subject in order to create the conditions for the self-directing activity; one's self image is mediated through the ‘self-other’ relation, not only in terms of its substantive or evidential content but also in terms of the self in its base capacity. For Sigmund Freud, the ‘other’ is internalized to become a central organizing principle for one's desire, one's needs, driven by one's unconscious. Thus, on the one hand freedom and independence requires reason, which requires the ability to separate from the ‘other’, while at the same time, the self is ineluctably dependent on the other's interruptions and influence. If both of these traditions are broadly correct, it would seem that we are doomed to a lack of freedom through autonomy, because undivided autonomy is doubtful. Consequently, freedom through independence is defined as precisely that which we cannot attain.
Linda Martin-Alcoff, Professor of Philosophy and currently the Director of Women`s Studies at Syracuse University in the USA, asserts in The Political Critique of Identity, '... in classical liberal political theory, the initial state of the self is conceptualized as an abstract individual without, or prior to, any group allegiance. It is from this "initial position" that the self engages in rational deliberation and thus achieves autonomy ...' through free choice. 'As (Immanuel) Kant developed this idea, a person who cannot gain critical distance from and thus objectify their cultural traditions cannot rationally assess them and thus cannot attain autonomy. In Kant's view, an abstract or disengaged self is for this reason necessary for full personhood. Moreover,the process of modernity, which was conceptualized as analogous on the societal level to the process of individual maturation, became defined as just this increased ability to distance oneself from one's cultural traditions. In this way this distancing ability also became a key part of the global, European-centered teleology of intellectual and moral development, defining the terms by which societies were to be labeled advanced or backward.’ Martin-Alcoff goes on to stress that, ‘… the norm of rational maturity, then, required a core self stripped of its identity …’
One side of this theoretical and often prejudicially-lived debate, has sought to locate and resolve in us an independent state of self. We can now see that this state may be defined dichotomously, responsible not only for shaping but also for ignoring it seems, the collateral damage occurring to that other aspect of personal and collective identity - the issue of our ‘Belonging’. Could it be that this aspect of which Kant speaks, this process of maturation, the graduation to ‘… full personhood’ is a contributor to the erosion in our sense of belonging? Has the manifestation of this balanced autonomous identity so carefully harboured by us, comprised merely a veneer over that reality which now emerges as a lost locus?
Let us examine for a moment, verbal conversation as an adhesive which only partially binds us to the moment in this stream of change. Not only does speech aid our functioning effectively in social situations and locates us in time and given space, but more candidly, the ability to converse and to be heard affirms, empowers and expands the map of the human heart.
In Tricks of the Mind, by Derren Brown, under the section on ‘Targeted Rapport’, Brown writes, ‘ Most people when they are getting on well, will be in a state of unconscious ‘rapport’. They will tend to mirror each other`s body language and so on without realizing it …’ At the same time, ‘… there is the odd sensation we have all experienced (though we never think to mention it) of knowing when the other person is about to get up and leave. Suddenly there is something in the air, a moment or a shift and then you know the other person is about to say they should ‘make a move’. And if they don`t you have that feeling that they are outstaying their welcome’. The level of unconscious rapport shared up to that moment, particularly if the conversation has lasted for some time, is responsible for the sharing of mutual thought and body patterns so that together you can sense when the time to leave has arrived. Speech comprises much of the articulation of this and that of our wider socio-contextual map - much, but not all. The hidden message which is about when and how to leave an engagement is articulated through speech-prompts but also through body language, an underlying empathetic cue to move on, with this decision coming from a place ‘of ‘ and in the body – a place from which, in a manner of speaking we have already departed.
Brown maintains that studies carried out on rapport have shown an array of mirrored behaviours that are not merely body positioning but something far more subtle. It has been established that people in rapport with one another tend to breathe at the same rate, adopt similar facial expressions, blink at the same rate and use one another`s language. I would describe these responses as somatically based. In other words they are products of a non-spoken, internal discourse that the body carries out continually (using one another`s language is still instigated by a bodily response to a stimulus). A hidden dialogue beneath speech and vision through which we are more overtly governed. We have at our fingertips, so to speak, a very specific skillset which is available to us on a subliminal level during our interaction with another; a transponder of sorts, fashioned to assist us in the process of moving ourselves and a stranger identity to a place which may simply be less strange and designed almost as if to counteract the inexorability of our predilection for departure.
‘Rudimentary engagements, communication at its most basic, the prototype of all human interaction …’ such are the descriptors for the term, ‘Protoconversation’ in Daniel Goleman`s, Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships. The term relates to the early neural signals which expand into methods for establishing a rapport that we experienced as babies, making our first communicative forays into the outside world through the medium of our mothers. Often a synchrony of rhythmic motion, touch, gaze, sound and breath, a coordination of hand movements and facial expressions will establish a mutual rapport between mother and child. Such conversations are more
often than not very short in duration – even only seconds in length and they end when both parties arrive at matched states, typically, affectionate ones. Protoconversations have a certain elasticity in meaning and application. Not only does it refer to the very earliest development of our powers of communication (mostly non-verbal), but in adulthood, protoconversations remain as our most fundamental template for mapping, matching or missing in meetings with others.
The template is tacit, a subtle awareness through feeling and the senses which allows us when we meet to quietly proceed, in step, with a stranger or acquaintance, friend or family member. Protoconversation is a silent dialogue – Goleman uses the term, ‘substrate’ upon which all encounters or engagements are built. Goleman assures us that it is, ‘… the hidden agenda in every interaction’. Goleman (2007) A silent go-between if you will, which underpins and as a mode of communicating, often outlasts the manifestation of speech. One could extend this to say that protoconversation is a silent, neurokinetic conversation supported by mutual empathy - assisting a curiosity about the path ahead. Attention, albeit one that fluctuates, is paid to the task of listening to one`s partner, in the moment, using certain tools: When ‘conversing’ or when in a dance duet, (particularly those dance modes which are based on the premise of improvisation) listening - paying attention through touch to the tone or tenor of the connection with the other person, the unspoken, fleetingly glimpsed under-dialogue of the-moment-in-change is not only paramount if the conversation/duet is to last, but it also allows us to gather information about what is occuring in front of us on Goleman`s ‘substrate’ level.
So what occurs before the engagement closes? Why do people leave? What cues, like those just mentioned, are there to warn of impending closure?
In Contact Improvisation Dance, (like the name suggests there is an absence of choreography in this shared movement mode - and more of an unbridled revelry in indeterminacy) as in a spoken conversation between two people where each must navigate uncharted waters as they go, whether they are strangers or not, sometimes one person leaves the conversation or duet; sometimes there is a tacit, unspoken moment when both parties recognise that a point of stasis has been reached and closure is imminent; Why? Are both parties simply - tired? Sometimes there may be the result of a mismatch in listening, a change in mood; Sometimes the narrative which has been self-sustaining, evolving, fluctuating through pauses (which are not in themselves necessarily inert) and bursts of intense movement, simply runs out of momentum and finds its own place to rest. The conversers or dancers are instigators of these pathways to departure, and simultaneously, witnesses to it. Rarely though, is departure itself recognized as the instigator of the act to leave. The act of 'Leaving' itself makes no demands upon us - we are swept on regardless, in a stream of change that we cannot stop. ‘Leaving’ is a descriptor of this state which forever accompanies us. Suffice it to say, I believe that to be at peace with ‘Leaving’ requires practice when there is a suspicion that conversations, meetings and engagements are those points of purchase in the stream which inevitably, cannot last. It can be seen that perhaps within the parameters of negotiating engagements in this paper, the slide toward departure may involve something more than two people reaching an energetic impasse.]
To close with Bergson, in The Social Psychology of Experience: Studies in Remembering and Forgetting, the authors, David Middleton and Steven Brown suggest that Bergson`s view of the world is a process which embraces a, ‘fluid continuity of the real’, (2005). There is no doubt that for us time is at first identical with the continuity of our inner life. What is this continuity? That of a flow or passage, but a self-sufficient flow or passage, the flow not implying a thing that flows, and the passing not presupposing states through which we pass; the thing and the state are only artificially chosen snapshots of the transition, all that is naturally experienced is duration itself. (Bergson quoted in Middleton & Brown, 2005: p.61) I maintain then, that we are not 'beings' but time-based creatures, mediated by uncertainty through change. In this Urban Myth the interconnections which exist between indeterminacy manifesting through lived departures, ensures that there is no surcease for the roaming body in this blended continuity of the Real we call life. No secure position to be attained and held indefinitely. In this context we may find that we are interconnected through our mutual estrangement and that our engagements, conversations and connections will always be at hazard.
I suspect from my observations that ultimately, as indeterminants, we are always ‘Leaving’ and that this is a true descriptor of our condition in that business of being human. There is real pathos to be found in a lifetime of leaving engagements and this state will keep us forever defined by some, if not ourselves, as strangers. My opening paragraph of this paper introduces the notion of ' ... a climate of indeterminacy governing our actions which appear to prevail ...' In the end, despite our acts and accomplishments which bear witness to signal points of purchase, perhaps the only actions which truly prevail are those which draw us away. Leaving.
My last reference is a quotation from Buddha:
What is the appropriate behaviour for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What`s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?
(Buddha quoted in Human Givens Journal 2008)
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Bergson, H. (2005). Visualizing Experience. Henri Bergson on memory in Middleton, D and Brown, S. D. 2005, (p. 61)
Brown, D. (2007). Tricks of the Mind. Channel 4 Books, (p.186).Buddha. Human Givens. vol 14, (3) Human Givens Publishing Ltd, East Sussex, England, UK.
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Massumi, D. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, Durham & London, (p.135).
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