Reflecting about the last moments of the 15 year celebration that unfolded in Tlalpujahua with Diego, Bronwyn, Andrea, RLE, Doug, Christopher, Jose, Gama, Melissa, Karina, Antonio, Rosamaria, Alma and of course, Lucy: I see promise and heart and revelation that I will live for you and you will live for me…
Weaving my body through the thicket, we are a pack of grunting animals as we ply the bramble of South Rainier Training area. Here I was a soldier. How did I get here? Dark, wet chill saturates my fatigues, Matt to my front, Jim behind, the cold everywhere, seeping in, penetrating skin and flesh and bone…and yet I am warm from moving, sweat creeping up a stiff band of cotton on my back, rifle cramping my right arm, weighted by the heft of a full magazine. And yet I am warm in closeness to the brothers behind and in front, in our togetherness the snappy chill does not penetrate so deeply.
Eugene and I outsmart the cold ground by gathering fern leaves, piles of them. Another night after a day of rain, wet fatigues now freezing like cardboard as the night sky opens to the stars. It’s too cold to pretend. Scattering in a cushion shaped bed, we stretch the military poncho over the ferns and stake it down for the most warmest sleep in the coldest cold I have ever had–This beats the spooning we did in Yakima, where we borrowed each other’s warmth to survive in forced intimacy.
In the eternity of memory that makes up my army, sometimes just the electricity of a wet clothed shoulder touching shoulder filled me with such promise and hope and warmth that made the all of my short life tolerable. Or an imploring whisper, urgent hushed tones or a searching gaze, in all its excruciating tenderness. And all our shared impulse and drive subverted and sublimated toward the enterprise of killing, toward the arrival of our fine selves to the point of delivering automatic gunfire and triggering shrapnel hurling munitions toward the other…
And now some are dead, put in the ground to where they came from, surrendered to the earth, no longer a narrative but the flash of moments, shared touches and suffering and the quiet amidst the concussions–their fear in proximity to my fear:
And there was a time we were all together
When the sun rose or stars fell
we had nothing but each other
Deafening silence, hush-quiet surrounded us
In one moment, not a collection
But one everlasting moment
I felt the fire in my blood
In my guts
But the flames were shared—the searing heat
Oscillating cellular excites the cooling stopped movement
The unaware setting
of the infinite metal
In this Tlalpujahua time we join like open hearted soldiers, bared to our tender core we go into the mine. We stumble, the group of us groping, grasping for external purchase, and physical knowing, assurance of proximity—the utterance, gasped awe of water splash, stone under arch cutting the toe pad, brutalizing the tender foot. Limping in feigned sensitive high ground searching feet walking under ground into the mine. Hand on shuddering shoulder, penetrating the fear of mind in the mine—afraid of breath come close, intimate mirror of self with others in darkness, penetrating the earth one more time, going to ground. The one in front of me, communicating through the lightest finger squeeze a slight warning.
And there in the mine, every part of me open, vulnerable, fearless in a surrender to going further in, I heard the cries of those collapses, I felt those hurts and heartbeats and wishes for this to be over, to get the gold and leave. But it is never enough, always for the more, the enterprise of extracting the medium for others to avoid the collapsing closeness of breath of mirror of self of privation. I witness the past in the blasted residue of the mine, the infinite metal of our shared experience, our shared heart, bleeding on the rock of the mine floor, mingling with the blood of the miners, who created the path.
And I felt the grief of the earth cloven, driven, drilled, consumed, and digested alive, the screams of the miners, too dark to dream, the light extinguished and out of heat, the holding tension of the bodies of those miners, the organized fear to exploit—uncovering the vulnerable to center the unbound and surrender the shaft of lightless night—stars extinguished in blackness of black hole earth bound warmth of womb, mother’s amniotic leaking sack like sheets of wetness coating the walls…
Uncovering and oscillating cellular excitation creates matter shining buzzed to gold to golden hearth to heat to home, penetrating further inwardly, going like a ghost chasing it’s memory we dig deeper into the pit of pity, the mine of mine to objectify the realization of gold, of oro, of two stars together making one…
We travelers unbound take a left up the ever diminishing shaft and sit in breath and silence and like a birth, it rises in me the putrid guts of the grief of the walls and the emptiness of a gold lost in the industry to capture it. I discover my animal next to me breathing in front and behind, a fearful laugh. I find the gold in me forever fluid and connected to the brother and sister behind and in front. I discover the gold that could never be found any other way, blind, in darkness, in collapsing physical space in proximity to the brother and sister to my side, a warmth in absence of the need for it.
The mine, the gold. All mine, all gold.
Article written in art school in 2003 for film class… yeah, art school confidentiality betrayed
The limitations of Applied Dialectics
Upon seeing Sergei Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence from his seminal film The Battleship Potempkin and studying his essay in the book, Film Form, titled, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” I arrived at a place of criticism of Eisenstein’s theory of montage. In Film Form, Eisenstein addresses the “political” implications of film and its potential for ideological proselytizing: “I would not attempt to deny that this form (film) is most suitable for the expression of ideological pointed theses, but it is a pity that the critics completely overlooked the purely filmic potentialities of this approach.” This statement strikes me as important to understanding both Eisenstein’s film work and his theoretical elaborations. Not only did he use film as a propaganda tool, he took the Soviet ideological apparatus and applied it to the theoretic underpinnings of filmic language.
Eisenstein’s application of the dialectical “method” betrays an immaturity with regard to Hegelian/Marxist thought. The Soviet experiment made a critical mistake of attempting to take Marx and Engel’s writings and develop a working model for a society. This was essentially counter-revolutionary and a general frustration of the dialectical process of unfolding understood by Hegel and Marx. This is the crux of the issue (of applied dialectics or a programmatic realization of contradiction as the defining motor of change)that Eisenstein demonstrates is a limited understanding of the dialectical process: an unfolding of elements as a result of social pressures.
Eisenstein’s use and misuse of dialectical reasoning, inspired me. He sought to employ dialectics in the realm of film and theory and I am not convinced the dialectic functions as a utility. I believe the shortcomings of this forced application betray an immature, and programmatic method that reflects Soviet Communist ideology.
This misunderstanding is/was clearly manifest in the Soviet model of ‘actually existing socialism” which did a very anti-dialectical intervention into its own historical process by developing a state controlled means of production and an ideological apparatus whose most sophisticated function was survival. Ideological survival included, among other functions, the demonizing of capitalist process and its participants and an “imperialism of the people” in its implementation of the Soviet model on countries and regions to the periphery of Russia.
Eisenstein, in his essay, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” lays out two fundamental dialectic impulses that are motivated by conflict:
1) The adoption of the conflict method of montage which transforms two side by side shots into a third action or dynamic. Eisenstein uses the idea of conflict as the motivating concept of dynamism in filmic montage. Two seemingly unrelated subjects create a dialectic third through their placement next to each other in montage editing and temporal space.
2) Film Form as treatment or theory of dialectic imprinting on the “brain” that may yield dialectic thinking. Eisenstein elaborates this idea through various descriptions of conflict development in montage. (For example, graphic conflict, conflict of planes, conflict of volumes, etc.) The chief use of this conflict juxtaposition is to deliver a visual representation of the dialectic process, thereby influencing our way of thinking about the film, and hence, the world.
The dialectical dynamic is bandied about by many intellectuals and academicians and frequently lacks definition or qualification. Dialectics are as misunderstood as Marx/Engel’s ideas about socialism and the assumption by many that they were the architects of the socialist experiments in the world. The sheer magnitude of their work dealt completely with the illustration of the process of capitalist reproduction of social conditions that would be the systems undoing with the birth of the next stage of class relations to the means of production: socialism. Marx stated after the crushing to the Paris Commune in 1871, that socialism could only be defined by experimenting with what socialism could be: to explain what socialism is without practical application is Utopian.
Primary to Marx/Engel’s interpretation and development of dialectic materialism was their idea of contradiction: the incompatible development of elements within the same relation. For instance in capitalist society, the capitalist class and the working class develop unique properties in relation to the means of production. The capitalist class consolidates its wealth and control by ownership of the means of production while the working class toils away and sells their labor power as a commodity. The capitalist class becomes wealthy and powerful through the exploitation and oppression (oppression through the dehumanization of the worker in the process of labor, repetition of task, the selling of one’s labor power to the highest bidder) of the working class. This is the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society.
One cannot understand the Marx/Engel’s dialectical materialism without going back to Hegel. Hegel’s whole gig was to create a synthetic reason in response to a negative criticism and reductionism derived from Socratic dialectics. Socratic dialectics, Hegel challenged, offered no alternative to its destructive, deductive process of tearing down and definition of what was not. Hegel developed a modern dialectic that he explained as a mature/forgiving philosophy based on synthesis vs. the immature/angry dialectic of Socrates. Hegel’s main illustration of contradiction was the master and slave relationship. Within this relationship, the contradictory impulses of both the master (to dominate, to receive validation through control) and the slave (desiring freedom; learning that oppression is not the way to achieve it). Hegel saw that emancipation was a probable revolutionary outcome from the opposing forces in the master/slave relationship.
Although these ideas that Eisenstein has worked on are rigorous, they neglect fundamentals of dialectical materialism and Hegelian dialectics as a “process” of becoming in the external world (instead they are a applied treatment or universal description of specific form) and a way of apprehending this process in our thinking.
The Dialectic is a global current, a supreme law of change. Within this current exists a multitude of waveforms that interact in a common substance (such as water, in this metaphor). The constant dynamic interaction and friction between waveforms yields ever larger and radical manifestations, through reverberation and additive cooperation. The ever-increasing scale and quality of these larger waveforms result in powerful forces that exert their influence, transforming fundamental elements into ever changing manifestations.
This is my understanding of the dialectic process. It is not something that I can apply; rather it is an internalized dynamic, a thought process, and an external unfolding of change that manifests in all creations, especially social conflict, in this example. Through a study of wholeness, the perception of the larger environment of our thinking and of the world’s action (in the social sense) becomes truly dynamic.The Dialectic is a process; it is not a methodology from which to work nor is it and application to employ.
 Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” Film Form, Ed. Jay Leyda(Harcourt Brace & Company:Florida, 1947) 62.
“Inhabit your Destiny, live your future,” the riff of the teacher, in his deep, spanish-accented voice, directs the eight of us. We move through the space, circling each other in the blackened, and soundless theater, dimly lit, the radiation of the sun beating on and through the loft of the roof. I signed up for a 2-month creative cohort workshop, where we will present our work as a performance. Led by a man who dances his life, he is the container for the work and the work is all about the operative word of “opening.” At first, the idea of opening sounds like a ridiculous enterprise, but read below and see what happens…
Stretching, rocking, I prepare myself for the unfolding of what is next. The swish sound of busy feet on the plywood-covered stage is in front of a low beat of looped tribal music pushing from speakers. At the teacher’s instruction, we gather, clutching a rope, allowing the braided nylon to slide through the fingers. In the way the energy speaks through the voice of the teacher, he implores us to, “abandon our habitual selves, our habitual body, to reach and touch our delicate ordinariness, the expanse of our mundane everyday wonder.” I have no clue as to where he is asking me to go but I get it that my thinking won’t get me there. My muscles contract, my bones bend and the hair on my skin stands out as I follow the lead of the teacher. In some unknown way my heart matches the beat of the others as I convince my feet and toes to embrace the floor. I spread my fingers, willing them to open, one by one. Touching the three places with my fingertips with rapid determination, pelvis, heart, and forehead, my hips begin to unwind, my chest opens and I come home to the vigor of my breath. With intention, another version of tension, I apply myself. Lurch, abandon, open, clench, push, rest, and ply, I generate from my insides out as I move. I work on the fire within, tend to it, feel it sear against my insides, the carbon taste filling my mouth, brackish wet in my nostrils. From there I push out, and express. I operate. As the teacher says, I “activate.” And from this inside place, this ordinary self living in my skin, this version of me that is now in the same location, now caught up after years of pushing away from the past, from this place, I butoh. Yes indeed, I said “I butoh.” The word, now a verb, an action, an experience, never a static and fixed thing. Never a noun. Never a word on a page. Now, only a signifier of a process.
I identify as a painter by choice and inclination—a visual explorer. I am not interested in viewing art or studying the legacy of any painterly school, I simply paint. This is my science, where I pose the question and discover, on my own, what becomes. My growth thus far has been a perpetual approach to the edge of my self—to the tipping point, where everything is on the line. All is at stake. Risk, life and death, are all part of the edge that I slide my paint into. And it is not enough. Where I lack, I make it up. Where the details are fuzzy, I get more specific in my invention. And often, the work is shit. And because of this edge, I often don’t paint. Then, I do. Sometimes I just want it to be fun again. Sometimes it is.
There are people who say that a true artist can apply themselves to any medium and produce an event or piece of work that is reflective of their essence: a work that reflects the maturity and aesthetic of the vision contained within the artist’s heart. In the case of butoh, the body becomes the body of work—applied physiology. As I jump into myself and hold the poetic imagery suggested by the teacher, I smash myself against the mystery. And I risk injury. A small voice in me curses myself for so quickly signing that release form.
I’m gonna butcher this, this Dave history, this imagined and applied self deception, but you get to read the bullshit and believe it. For it is true because I make it so. Where I lack the information, I become magician. I conjure. I butoh.
Butoh, the form, arose in Japan, in the body of the human creatures there, in the late 1950’s. My limited study of the subject has me feeling quite American and even, political, as I create the story and reimagine it for you—a story derived from short-term study over-layed with ignorant enthusiasm. Butoh arose as a energetic response to the rigid and formal strictures of traditional Japanese theatrical practice and form: formal theatrical practices such as Kabuki Theater and Noh Theater. Butoh blasted away at these traditions. Butoh reclaimed the horror of the unaddressed and sublimated trauma from the nuclear devastation visited upon the island and people of Japan. It was the body, expressed in its raw and splendid imperfection.
Of course there were the progenitors, Kazuoh Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, but I will fuck that completely up if I try. The point is, this dance, this form, this spontaneous, energetic, embodied practice of abandoning habit and conditioning arose out the radiated ashes still inhaled by the people of Japan to this day. Butoh arose. It birthed itself, to become the child, the wandering child, the broadcast of impulse, defying the ordinary. I’ve read that it is referred to as the “dance of darkness” but in truth, to butoh is to defy classification. “Performers” often Butoh without audience, in a trash pile, or maybe a fern covered floor of a forest, or inside a dumpster—the energetic connection only with the practitioner, to learn, explore and discover the buried terror of uninhibited instinct.
Performers who hold to the form, either to honor the beginnings or to hang on to some semblance of rigidity, often costume in very little clothing, a loin covering or such, their skin covered in white ash. Extreme emotional states, agitation, grotesque and contorted body position, shaking, vocalization, pain, wincing and delicate, slow, melodic beauty, petals of a flower, wings of a butterfly, to butoh is to embrace and embody all that is human and all that is inhuman. To butoh is to move deeply beyond the confines of cultural habit and conditioning, to embody the energetic impulse of creative, spontaneous life—across all cultures, traditions and ethnic blendings, to butoh is to get under it and over it. What are you, reader, waiting for?
As the teacher speaks, his voice becomes the voice of my ancestors. His voice becomes the practice. He exemplifies the diaspora of the butoh impulse. In this workshop the teacher is bringing his butoh to us, the participants. His butoh, like the melting pot of America, unassimilated, his butoh is a mixture of the shamanic rituals and traditions of native Mexico, decades of study in dance and theater, and deep practice with one of the two instigators of butoh, Kazuoh Ohno. The timbre of the teacher’s voice, the cadence of his speech, coaching us, imploring us, betrays the ancient maturity of his opening.
In one poetic image suggested by the teacher, I express my father on the left side of my body and my mother on the right. I feel the tension between the two, the lovely, angry and bitter tension that belied their 64 years of marriage. I live the worry between the two, the division of labor that typified their union, where one embodied the traditionally masculine, the provider, the decider. And the other, generous, the home maker, the cook, the soft one. As I continue to express these two through the anxious digits of my hand, I make a guess at the weight of my mother’s oppression, at her angry jaw underneath the soft smile, but my body, weighted as it is, leans over toward the masculine. Typing a message with my left hand to my dead father I ask him these questions: “What was your secret?” “What was your dream” “What was your secret dream.” As the questions arise from my mind, now overwhelmed by the raw physicality of constant motion, asymmetric spasms of involuntary impulses, labored breath and fatigued legs, sweat jumping off the tip of my nose– I come to a place that is a most vast expanse—the unknown, the void, the abyss of self. I come to know my father and what my inheritance is. The story and the chatter of the surface life I lived under his roof opens up to the energetic reality of my father. To his aspiration, his love, his dream. His pain.
Everyday as a kid under his roof I never forgot his sadness for better days gone by. Sadness for the futility of life. Sadness disguised as rage, broadly applied. That rage filled sadness lived in my dad’s body like a worried knot. The constriction of his arms and legs, always crossed or covering his heart, the square set of his jaw and the feral gaze that rarely loosened. As he would say about anger, “it is honest.” And that honesty always loosened the limbs and softened his jowls, particularly after an aerobic rage. Often I was the recipient of his expression, somehow understanding my part in receiving it, not to take it personal. To cut off myself from myself. To absorb in my body the energy displacement. He would soften with alcohol and spent rage followed by a retinue of “sorry, tiger’s.” He would say it to make it alright. To amend. To atone.
And always, the shallow gratitude for the bombs.
A secret I discover is the gift of his life. His reality was severely impacted by his World War II service, where his survival, according to his story and trajectory, was intertwined with the bombing of Japan. “Thank god for the atom bomb,” was often delivered with slurred speech, my dad imploring with his eyes as if searching for someone in a crowd. Indeed, he was a hard man, softened with alcohol and when under the booze, out of his unclenched jaw came the monologue. Nostalgia. Geisha girls and Glen Miller. And always Frank Sinatra: Frank’s failure to pass the draft review, allowing him to fuck and fuck over every fighting GI, to fuck their wives, girlfriends and sisters with his entitled and syrupy voice. And the repetitive description of my dad’s buddy Fitz or Bill Lolly. And the pictures of my dad, Hollywood handsome, playing in the snow with the most delicate of women. Others, his eyes shining, at a table, clearly lit up with sake, in his dress greens. And more.
My dad was in the Pacific Theater during the war and the capitulation of Japan, their surrender, took him out of the imminent land invasion of the island. He instead, became an occupier, a participant in the defeat of a people: my father as witness to his own life unfolding, his gratitude for the atom bomb, the delicate and profound wound of a people subsumed by a larger power system, the cherry blossom cloud of atomic detonation. And the ash. The ash of spiritual poverty.
I feel the whisper of his life gracing my skin and unlock in my sternum. I sense the underneath of him, the body free of constriction, the jaw unclenched, his voice full and uncontrived. I dance his dream, the unexpressed dream of my dad—I dance for him, where he could not. I unravel the knot. The braided cords of my sinews and the inherited, transmitted energy shakes loose. It is here that he lives in me and I see the opportunity to transform him and all past generations—to lean into the abyss. How long have I danced around this place, and now, I am here.
I spent fifty of my years running away from myself, borrowing against my physicality, burning my skin, toxifying my liver, mutilating my fingers as I played catch up with power tools, swallowing pills and alcohol, putting needles in my veins and jerking my erection to extract some bit of joy, over and over and over, for years and years. And I did it all to escape myself. To escape to the next thing, always ahead of the moment where my body breathed. I borrowed against my body, trying to catch up to the speed of life.
At this moment, as I write, I am located. In the process of imagining– this dance or dream or whatever,–what was my former enemy has become my friend, my body. I am an inhabitant of this divine vehicle, for the first time in the history of this body. We are aligned. No longer dislocated, my identity, self and body are more integrated than ever.
The teacher continues…, “Tighten, close, cover yourself and your shame, you are small and invisible, disappear before us in your shame. ‘Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me,’” was the instruction to collapse in on our secret shame as children, convince ourselves of our inherent un-loveable-ness. As I brought myself in and tightened around the instructions I felt a lump of pain and hot bitter throaty tears rise up and escape my lips… I was again, little and neglected, forgotten in the present moment of my upbringing. A secret shame blossomed in my body, invited by the teacher, I became a weak, dependent boy convinced of my inherent unworthiness. An image arises of me, viewed in third person, I am sitting before my first grade teacher, Ms. Whitehouse, as she reads to us, sitting on the floor. I position myself so that I can catch a glimpse up her blue polyester dress, up the channel of her legs toward a mystery. The next image of myself, a lonely orphan, dapper in a brown corduroy coat, under the pregnant rain clouds in the playground of first grade. I clutch a stick and pull my hand back in the coat, as if the stick was my prosthetic wand. And I chase a girl with the stick, grunting like a little animal. This was our game. And how do I, today, chase that girl with a wand, what game do I play? And how do I still strive to catch a glimpse of the mystery? Like my tears forming at the corner of my eyes, swelling in size until they drop, as I move with the group, as I imagine, I give birth to that boy, I allow him to escape from my guts, to rise, embraced by my grown up self.
Again, the teacher, “Now! , ok, ok, now, bring yourself forward, uncover, uncover, gently, gently, open, open, now bring yourself open, put yourself in the posture of joy and possibility, live in that place, breath into it and expand, expand. Grow out, hold the future, the impossible joy of everything. Grow with it, let it become.” And I become. I go back to the beach in Guam, 1985, in the army and off duty. I’m there for a Joint Special Operations Training exercise, big words for a blindingly surreal experience of a simulated gun battle. I’m just an island over from Tinian, where the “big boy” was loaded into the belly of the Enola Gay, its next destination, birth of the nuclear age over Hiroshima. I’m on the beach wearing nothing but a thin pair of surf trunks, the sand so lovingly burning my feet, standing before the waves…. and the sun loves me like no mother ever could– at that moment all fear abandoned me. I enlarge, my chest cracking open, arms spread, palms upturned toward the sky, I invite the sun to enter my heart and I feel my joy, the limitless potential, the electric truth and conviction to crack open the sky. I become it. I touch it. I know it. My body sings.
“Now, bring yourself back. Come to neutral; come to the neutral place where both the shame and joy are together, but with neutral expression. Hold these two places, hold them and let them connect.” And I integrate. I lower my muscles in my face, let the mask slip into a benign steadiness. I breathe. I calm. My body lines up with the two realities and settles. I allow myself to open and feel the thrum of my hard beating heart in my chest, excruciating and tender, the experience that pain and joy are of the same source. I open. My body aroused from a new sprint, a new adventure, running toward myself. Sweat pours down my skin, my hips are loose, my sternum soft, my mouth open. I look out of my eyes and I see the group, an extension of me, breathing with me. I whisper to myself, just under my exasperated breath…“what’s next?”