The foundational text of YIP.
NOTES on FAITH and SCHOOL
Ben Van Buren
I love the way Anne Carson prefaces her translations of Euripides. “Why does tragedy exist?” she asks. “Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.”
There is a story that I don’t quite remember in Yvonne Rainer’s Autobiography about how she came to be misquoted in Time Magazine. When asked what she thought was important she answered, “To be a part of one’s time.” But Time remembered it differently and published the quote as, “Using one’s time well.”
But why are we full of grief?
As we were sitting on the well cut grass of the median that runs down a leafy avenue my friend Nina turned to me and said, “I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that we are filled with Grief because we are filled with war” (which I had just suggested via Critchley). “I think we are filled with Grief because we are filled with Love.” I know she is right.
Sitting on a studio floor. Watching half of my cohort dance, when quickly, quickly enough to interrupt the first yawn of the afternoon, Jean runs and jumps on Krish’s back and they both fall clumsily to the floor. We. The half who are sitting, all laugh. A few minutes later, when the timer goes off we circle up and talk about what worked. Someone mentions a moment of accidental symmetry, someone mentions juxtaposition, we repeat ourselves and each other, no one mentions the fall.
Living away, living far away, from a love is especially hard. No? We meet at 11AM (their noon) on Skype. It’s summer there and winter here. Hola. There is no mailbox stuck in the mud at the end of the drive nor slotted in a row in the belly of the apartment building. It is in us, we bring it along, our mailbox is where we are at 11AM.
I love Sans Soleil. The footage of Tokyo before cellphones is so seductive. At one point in the very beginning, in between shots of Guinea Baso, Tokyo, and Iceland the Narrator says something to the effect of “in the 19th century, the world came to terms with competing conceptions of space, and the problem of the 20th century is coming to terms with competing conceptions of time.” I believe he is right.
I’ll meet you at 11. I’ll check my email throughout the day.
Jean and Krish went to the floor and we all laughed. Why did we neglect to mention it? Simple. We assumed we were learning to make dances for strangers, not each other. That moment when Tom and Jason entered at the same time without looking at each other was interesting, it really changed the space, anyone, anyone, would find it compelling. But we who had spent years together, who had loved each other, didn’t mention the fall.
Art doesn’t happen out of the blue. This we know for sure. Art is always in dialogue and debate with the world it encounters. This we know for sure. This we know for sure. The artist does not work in a vacuum. This we know for sure. Therefore a practice of art is a practice of life. This we know for sure.
I don’t remember your room, I remember the light in my room. I don’t remember your smell, only what your eyes did.
I remember reading Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase in high-school. She was a nun for most of the 1960s. The book is a chronicle of her difficult re-entry into secular life. A turning point for her was a reading of Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. It is a beautiful poem that asks the question of what to do when, over the common course of life, one finds that nature, in all its beauty, no longer suffices. I’ll save you the long quote. The short answer, for Karen, was “We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind.”
Nature has changed. It, of course, has not, but as a word, to us who made up that word, it has. Nature, as that place that once we could return to, attune to, emulate, has shifted. This we Know for sure.
Our moods are no longer swept up only in the casual undulations of the natural world, but also in a certain rhythm and periodization of communication and knowledge. Call it texting, call it searching. We no longer live in place only we now also live in time. On occasion.
What to do with grief?
This we know for sure: that tragedy was invented and that we have carried something resembling theater alongside ourselves for the past 2,500 years. We seem to have chosen to grieve not but rather find perpetual strength in certain practices of theatrical technology that have served many generations. But while we have lugged mimesis, representation, narrative, and the proscenium arch into the present we have more recently forgotten to pass down any set of instructions as to how to care for that which precedes our grief. We have come to neglect the originary theatrical technology, Love.
Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of love. Because there was a Peloponnesian War, and we needed to grieve together.
Why does something called dance exist today? In 2018, in Brussels, in New York?
Love, that sensation of remembering something one has never known.
Love, which makes space in time, of time.
I first encountered Muscular Christianity on the big TV in the townhouse on Avenue Albert that we magically ended up house-sitting for the last year of School.
We trained in the garden behind school with kettlebells, parallel bars, push ups. We were quiet, often there was silence. In the spring and summer months, the garden behind the reclaimed industrial building that constituted school was luscious, green.
There was a slight air of penetance in everything we did. We rarely, if ever, set out to break our own records, although it happened incidentally on occasion. The quality of our movement was more important than its being recorded. We believed we knew the laws of the human body, certain immutable laws concerning the correct way to squat, to push up, to run. There was morality there, a right and a wrong way of repeating oneself.
When we would collapse on the grass (and maybe a train was whirring by), we would feel in our exhaustion a true and joyus piety. Not elation, which glows outwards, but something closer to ecstasy, which, in the violence of its sensation, is always clutched tightly for fear of the destruction it might cause upon exiting. And within the hollow roundness of our exhaustion the rigorous separation between knowledge and belief would relax, and for a moment the two would become indistinguishable.
At home we watched Gill Hedley dissect a human form. The massive puss-yellow vestment of the superficial fascia lying on the stainless steel table. We watched his scalpel scrape away the “fuzz” that accumulates in between under-used muscle tissue. It was our testimony. What more proof did one need?
But we could not truly pretend to be good pious physiological essentialists, good Muscular Christians, because we were training to be better dancers, better asymmetrical, unnatural movers. We loved two contradictory eternities. The eternity of training and the eternity of performance. Metaphysics and its opposite.
In school we took ballet, we took workshops, we took contemporary dance classes. School was not a Church like the air of our garden was. It was a parliament of happy faiths, a commonwealth of religious variety. In School each student was given the power of ‘the decision’, the power to choose what information they wanted to believe in. School taught exceptionalism.
But we did not believe in exceptionalism. So we trained both outside and inside of school, faithfully observing both the personal private God of our garden exhaustions and the civic leviathan of our indoor studies. It was when we committed to bringing our Faith into contact with our Education that we understood both the origin and purpose of something like civil disobedience.
Art does not happen out of the blue. Sometimes airports explode. Art is always in dialogue and in debate with the world it encounters. Sometimes airports explode, Sometimes another airport explodes. A practice of art is a practice of life. Sometimes airports explode.
Art does not happen out of the blue. True, but its metamorphoses are far from transparent. Can I ask why you do art? Well, because the aristocracy wasn’t hiring, because it is the only logical outcome of the liberal arts, because it’s how I can get away with publishing experimental erotica, because I love websites, because I’m only alright at sports, because I want to further the cause of animal rights, because I love to read, because Chris Burden did it, because I have a unique digestive system, because sex, because my parents were, because my childhood was, because the world is. Sitting in the university courtyard, surrounded by the smokers, we would sheepishly improvise an answer. Art because the world is fucked. Art to change the world? Yes. How? By… by… (read the next bit quickly) By growing the presence of dance within universities. See Agamben, see Schmitt, ‘the tradition of the state of exception is a tradition of liberal democracies and not of dictatorships’, ‘the sovereign is he who decides the state of exception’. Check. Check. By engendering a kind of epistemic disobedience. See Mingolo. Check. Via Althusser. By positing new and uncomfortable (always uncomfortable) relationships to knowledge within the academy, that organ charged with vetting unproductive youth into their future roles within capitalism. Check. See Martin, on the University dance class, ‘“practice” is the key term that joins epistemology and politics’. Check. But first, see H’Doubler. 1917. The first dance program in a U.S. University. But first see Charles William Eliot right at the turn of the 20th. Harvard, the introduction of what would become the liberal arts. Observe how the advent of industrialized, agro-mechanical, farming demanded a different kind of higher education than what was on offer in the seminaries. Note how the church was thanked and dismissed. “I'm just a farmer trying to cure hog cholora. I'm just a farmer.” Remember Walter, who asked, “To the West of what?” And answered, “of Jerusalem, of course.” Art because in Hobbes. Because in Chapter XIII, in Hobbes, we learn that the state of nature is ahistorical and that we cede our right to violence to the sovereign because in the state of nature even the weakest may kill the strongest. Art because the weakest, through cunning, can kill the strongest. That can’t be right.
Walking towards Duden Park on a chilly night in November when B gets a call to tell her, to tell us, about the ongoing attacks in Paris. Or sitting on the cafe steps in Kadiköy in the grey light of October with a friend. It is two days after bombs were detonated in the middle of a peace rally organized by the KDP, and my friend, who was born and raised close to the explosions, is beyond comfort. Searching the sidewalk their eyes find nothing to recommend a solution. Some distant hand has their throat in convulsions. Sitting with them I forget everything I know. All the knowledge of a world which had arranged for the emergence of this thing called terror disappears as I attempt to render the simple act of sitting there on a step together, enough.
“The culture of the wretched of the earth,” writes Cornel, “is deeply religious.” Following the lessons of Cornel, Simon, and others I have become skeptical of any “dialogue and debate” that excludes, as so many seem to, a consideration of Faith as something integral to politics. I have come to believe that if something called artist wants to engage with the troubles of the world they would do well to come to terms with something called Faith.
I remember Dennis leaning against the down stage right wall in Utrecht. Holding a wireless microphone. Reading from a folded piece of paper that some might call a “script.” A single warm light from high above and slightly behind illuminates him in his own clothes. He is describing a scene, of men, on a rock, in the distance, fucking. He reads, “I want to grow up expressly to do something like that.” I stand on the other side of the stage transfixed. In my memory I’m in the wings. Though, I don’t think that theater had wings.
Still in the beginning of Sans Soleil the narrator says
I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?
As Denis reads I have my first experience of truly forgetting. A new knowledge capable of supporting the existence of this new evidence, this pause, this ecstasy, this terror, has to be produced. My memory excuses itself to a private corner of the mind and, unbeknowst to me, re-arranges its own order, its own knowledge, so that this new encounter might be known as the culmination of many disparate events.
Faith, which is not the opposite of politics, but rather its lining.
To live in time, on occasion, is not pure fantasy. The eyes don’t roll back into the skull. One doesn’t ferry away to some sufficiently convincing virtual reality that since the advent of the internet has been suspended, shimmering and perfect, above the cold, wet rest of the earth. No. It is rather what has come of wanting to stir when they do, despite not sharing the bed.
“How does autobiography begin?” asks William, who answers himself, “with memory.”
I remember Simon reading Wallace. Wallace whom I love too. Wallace Stevens lived a life divided. He was an national authority on insurance law, as well as a poet. The vacuum between his two lives has produced no end of speculation.
Modern Poetry, writes Wallace, in a poem from 1940, about Modern Poetry, called “Of Modern Poetry”
It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage
The modern poetry lives a life divided, says Wallace. Simon read Ideas Of Order At Key West aloud in a typical lecture hall in the spring of 2014. Fluorescent lights lit an amphitheatre of chairs screwed into the floor. He sat on a folding chair with his elbows on a folding table up on a small raised stage in the front. The stage floor was fitted with grey carpet, and behind him the backdrop was a blackboard.
It was so soon after the Civil War. Right after in fact. A great metamorphosis was taking place. A process of reverence was becoming a process of triumph. Students would no longer strive to learn a common map of world that waited for them them outside of the university walls. They would instead become like modern poetry: making and standing on a stage half themselves, half their schooling. So long as the goal was the authenticated Degree the student was encouraged to become the measure of all things. As a result, the art of teaching a language of selflessness became dated.
That we have memories, this we know for sure. We memorize Yvonne’s childhood, just as we peer into the chasm left by Wallace’s lives. What are we looking for? Simple, we want to know for sure. To stir alongside them, despite not sharing the decade.
I remember the rich amplification of Dennis’s quiet voice. How it echoed in the modest lecture hall. How the lights dimmed and how the fog snuck in through the doors and tiptoed down the stairs towards the stage. How you peaked out from the kitchen and took in the scene before returning silently to making coffee. I remember Jean and Krish interrupting the dancing by falling clumsily, indulgently, to the floor. I remember how they deflated the poignancy of the improvisational exercise. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s not a part of it. That’s them just fooling around. Come on, guys, take it seriously.” But then I also remember laughing and feeling instantly guilty for endorsing their foolishness. And who do I trust? The self that knows better or the self that simply reacts?