Recently I read an interview with Wim Vandekeybus (from the dance company Ultima Vez) and David Eugene Edwards (from the band Wovenhand) who both worked together on several dance performances (http://www.16horsepower.com/humo0902.html). Vandekeybus created the choreographies and Edwards composed the music.
In this interview Vandekeybus talked about his personal life and its connection to his art. From those statements I was able to learn. Why? Well, if you know a little bit about David Eugene Edwards and his music, then you are aware, that he is a truly committed christian, who doesn’t hold back with the ideas of his somehow traditional belief. Yet he is a highly respected and international acclaimed musician.
In the mentioned interview Edwards talks about Vandekeybus: “I love the way Wim works. I love it when people go far. Those rehearsals where so intense. The dancers go home at night full of bruises, sometimes they almost hobble home. Or to the hospital, haha. I love people who go to the limit like that. He does what he does, not stopping to think about what is proper or normal, or what people might think of him. Nothing is contrived. He is and does what he feels, raw emotion. That is difficult. If you surrender yourself like that, you soon become somewhat silly.” Picking up this valuation Stefanie de Jonge asks: “You’re aware of that too?”, whereupon Edwards answers: “Yes, In what I do, I can easily become ridiculous too. Perhaps I am. I don’t know.” So she digs deeper: “At the Botanique earlier this year when singing ‘Down the Forest’ [sic] you dared to chant the line ‘Jesus above Everything’ with your guitar above your head.” So now you know what I mean when I say, that he’s really a committed christian. 😉 Even Edwards laughs: “Yes, I do that. For me it is the only way to go about things: without fearing that you look foolish, or nuts, or whatever.”
And that’s the point I want to comment on with some statements by Vandekeybus. Exactly after the last cited answer of Edwards Vandekeybus talks about him, how he sees his art, but also himself as well as about his own art, which he creates with Ultima Vez. “David’s voice screams, but it goes so deep that your hair stands on end. He is a very spiritual man, very much inspired by the New Testament. He has a certain heavy quality. He does play medieval instruments, but in a rock way. He has nothing to do with fashion; he has something very pure. That tallies with the piece.” “Why?,” asks de Jonge. The following answer by Vandekeybus is of great importance for me. “Blush, you blush when you show an aspect of yourself that you really don’t want to show. It is about something welling up inside you; a chemical reaction within you, you get a hot flush and phew! there it is. I feel that when David is singing: there’s an upsurge and then he gets into a trance. In dancing I don’t want to see someone who is just displaying what he can do well. That doesn’t grip me. Only when you do exactly the opposite, let go of your prowess and go against it, only then it becomes interesting. You’re skating over thin ice and lose power and your certainties. That is true for the audience too. I don’t want the people in the auditorium thinking: ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!’ the whole time. No, I want them to hate what they see, and think: No! Wrong! And only on a given moment, after they have had to fight for it within themselves: Yyyesss! I still like to demolish everything and not be certain of anything, in my private life too. Of course you have to be able to be in command of that a little – I don’t advise unstable people to take this far. But actually, I am quite an annihilator. Again and again I want to build up something new and surprise myself. I don’t believe at all – because I happen to have a certain status – that I will again make a good production anyhow and that I will just tell my dancers what they have to do. I have eight new dancers, and they have to help me too, give me new things. That is what I do ask of them. And I myself will dance again too, even though, because of several accidents on stage, I don’t have any ligaments in one knee or a meniscus. All new risks, but that’s why ‘Blush’ will be good, you hear.”
Are these crazy ideas of some freak who’s too strange to be understood by anyone ordinary or just by some few people who feel and experience the same way as he? Are these statements, which can’t be communicated, which are therefore dangerous and frightening? I want to try to reformulate them in a more common and universal language. In a language, where these ideas can be justified and discussed. To this effect I present some thoughts by Michel Foucault.
In “The Masked Philosopher” Foucault talks about a exceptional human suffering and about human curiosity. He claims, that we don’t suffer because of an alleged void of the world. No, we suffer due to reality’s plentitude and our lack of means to think about that. From this he concludes, that it is our task to be curious.
At least three aspects he sees connected with curiosity. First, we should worry about all the things in the world, about all our experience, about everything we encounter. And we should bestow great care on all of this. Second, we should separate ourselves from everything that is familiar and see everything completely different. Third, we should sense everything in a strange and unique way.
That’s why philosophy for Foucault is thinking about our relation to truth. Also philosophy is a tentative attempt to find new laws of the game, that means an alteration of traditional values. That’s why we should think different, act different and be different.
With regard to i.e. sexual ethics that means for him (cf. “The Social Triumph of Sexual Will”, “An Aesthetics of Existence”), that institutions (i.e. marriage between a man and a woman) led to an impoverishment within the world of relationships. Which is to say that the spectrum of possible relationships is reduced by institutions. Hence, he appeals to resist them.
I want to express this a little bit more moderate – still with Foucault. He refers to a shift in moral life. Morality in the form of a system, in the form of a codex of rules to be obeyed is vanishing. Which doesn’t mean that morality as such is vanishing. Rather, it has to be given a new shape. That is personal ethics. He calls it “ethics of existence” or “aesthetics of existence”. He describes it as an effort to claim one’s freedom and to give one’s life a form, which can be accepted by oneself and by others.
Here we can see the closeness to his notion of living one’s life as a work of art (cf. “Conversation with Werner Schroeter”, “The Care of the Truth”, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress”). To live one’s life as a work of art means to create by oneself and in collaboration with others entities, relationships and qualities which can’t be given names. His appeal is, that I as an individual should be the worker on the beauty of my own life.
Risking blush by living one’s live as a work of art.
For Foucault as a gay homosexuality gave him the opportunity to live this kind of ethics (cf. “Friendship As a Way of Life”). He sees in the reality of two men falling in love with each other the inversion of the institution to its opposite. In other words, to his point of view love is opposed to law, rules and habit (cf. Arnold Retzer: Lob der Vernunftehe).
He gives an example. When an older man loves a younger woman, this relationship will be determined by institution. But when an older man falls in love with a younger man, then there will be no code through which both men could communicate. They are forced to invent a new kind of relationship. Foucault calls this relationship “friendship”, which he defines as the sum of all the things by which we can give each other joy and delight.
I suppose, what he wanted us to learn by homosexuality is that: due to the fact that homosexuals weren’t able to fall back on pre-formulated codes, they were able to make up really unlikely ways of life, which would never be like any of those institutionalised relationships. Well, call into mind his ideas on human suffering due to the plentifulness of reality and human curiosity. Foucault’s appeal is, that we should live in manifold emotional relationships and love relationships.
And since there are just a few relationships institutionalised as well as ways of life, to commit onself to a way of life, which one can accept and can be accepted by others, means to risk to blush.