The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

May 19, 2011

[the following text was to be delivered at epoetry - it's an enlargement 
of the outline I sent out a week or so ago. I'm sick and unable to attend 
in person, and Loss Glazier refused, as a matter of principle (if someone 
can't attend the conference in person, hir paper can't be presented), to 
have anyone else read it, or to have me deliver it by Skype, etc. so it's 
stillborn. I worked a couple of months on it, and think it might be of 
interest; here it is, as it was to be read.]

Uncomfortable notes on the poetics of captured human behavior:

[for Epoetry 2011]

Hi, apologies for not being able to attend; I've been sick. The following
is an outline of my recent work, which is based on a semiotics of the
human body that relates to political and environmental concerns,
choreography, and so forth, but is not based on particular graphemes or

I use motion capture in a variety of ways, emphasizing a poetics of
movement that works through motion-transformation, motion-invention or
discovery - in other words, I use motion capture for things beyond the
standard reproduction of human movement.

Think of a set constituting the range of human actions, as described by
Rudolf Laban:

Then think of different sorts of transformations T, that can be applied to
  this range through modified motion capture.

The result is an unlimited range of actions, preserved in files, which can
  be used in virtual worlds, in mannequin software, or for augmented
  realities. I describe this as:

{range of human actions, Laban A}
> T >
{unlimited range of actions B}

What is T?

a. software interface (dynamic behavior filtering) transformations
  - WVU changing the software itself, some node remappings.
When I was at WVU, we reworked the software for the older motion capture
  equipment at the Virtual Environments Lab; the result was the ability to
  create dynamic filtering, which modified the original actions.

b. hardware (distribution, remapping) transformations
  - remapping the nodes on one performer, distributions as in c.
Or the hardware could be mapped differently - the nodes could be assigned
  different positions on the body, than the usual.

c. social transformations (many into one, distributed mappings)
Or - and this is most pertinent - the nodes for a SINGLE AVATAR or
  representation could be distributed among several people, resulting in a
  SINGULAR BEHAVIOR, assigned to one avatar, but representing a social
  confluence - many people controlling one body.

The REAL BODY bound by skeletal connectivity, Jordan surfaces;
But the transformed body bound by skeletal connectivity, twisted/tangled

In other words the links in the transformed body can bend in any
  direction; the links in the real body are confined by human skeletal
  potentials + topology
  (topological embedding in four dimensions):
  think of this as a tensor calculus of human movement
  think of this as a topography of flesh and sinew

The following typology emerges - this is where my work is taking me:

Ruptures created by the general calculus above, ruptures through the
  calculus or in the calculus. This breaks down as follows:

Ruptures in the calculus:
  the tortured or wounded body
  the body convulsed in pain
  the catatonic body
  the terrorized body
  the broken or 'defective' body

Ruptures through the imaginary:
  the nightmare
  the orgasm
  hysteria/ boundaries of laughing and crying
  the confined body/ body of s/m
  the forgotten or abandoned body
  the hyper-sexualized body transmitters/ receivers
  hallucinations and other phenomena (Dendy's Philosophy of Mystery)

Ruptures of the body invaded by capital:
  X-scopic surgeries
  rfid implants

Ruptures of the body invaded by the imaginary:
  (capital of the imaginary, imaginary capital)
  psycho-tropics/overdetermined associations/disassociations

Ruptures of the body by an augmented real:
  sports, steroids, body-building, and so forth

Think of all of this together:

Invasions of the imaginary, invasions of capital, of the augmented real,
  invasions through the imaginary: invasions or invaginations,
  incorporations or intensifications? These terms entangle and return to:

Either the proper body, or the body as heap;
  the articulated body, or the dismembered and reassembled body;
  the body characterized by a real, or the body chararacterized
  by an imaginary;

Either the fundamental topography of the body,
  or the fundamental topology of the body - invasions, dissolutions,

Ruptures as returns of the repressed - some questions to be considered:

What lexicons are at work? What economies?
What is it that motion capture captures?
What is snared, what abandoned?
What is the vocabulary of behavioral dynamics - voluntary, autonomic,
  involuntary, intrinsic - or involuntary, anomalous and axiomatic,
In other words: What is going on with us, within and without the world?


Part 2: the Wringing. This is where I consider types of ruptures in terms
of Rudolf Laban's "efforts" in dance choreography:

Laban, in Modern Educational Dance, distinguishes ``eight basic efforts'':
Wring, Press, Glide, Float, Flick, Slash, Punch, Dab. ``Each of these
efforts contains three of the six movement elements: strong, light,
sustained, quick, direct, flexible.'' Four of the group are strong: Slash,
Wring, Press, and Punch. Wring and Press reconfigure the avatar; Press
preserves both topology and topography, but Wring transforms at least the

Wringing slides one against another, in combination with pressure:
Wringing distorts the body. With physical bodies, wringing breaks
connectionns (slashing can also break connections).

Now, think of:

The wrung body, the hobbled body. Wringing occurs when the body is
simultaneously twisted and restrained.

Gravity restrains and locates the body. With mocap, gravity may be
'eliminated' through the use of harnesses, or through edge phenomena that
carry the body elsewhere.

The heaped or pressed body: the body as thing, as material: the body of
the slave (wrung from and within capital, wrung from the socius).

From the viewpoint of capital, of war, the dehistoricized body - the body
becoming element or token, demarcation of nothing but position, mined for
its materiality.

The finality of the dancing body, the dance of death - the heaps of
Rwanda, Auschwitz, Abu Gharayb.

Similarity, in the world of the simulacrum, the disappearing body:
Argentina, U.S. prisons.

Not similarity: the world of the (natural) catastrophe, the disaster: the
heaped body, but the body (perhaps) recuperated for/within history.

One might think through all of this as the historiography of the body.
Where do we go from here?


  Part 3: the Wringing: Part 2: Addendum: Quotes from Rudolf Laban:


wringing--is flexible, sustained, strong.

Wringing can vary from a pulling to a twisting movement,and is felt more
easily in the shoulders, arms and hands than in the hips and legs. The
feeling of strength must not be lost, as the slow muscular resistance felt
in pressing is also present in this effort, but wringing produces a
different sensation as the joints move more flexibly.

At first, wringing should be felt in the hands, as in wringing out
clothes, and then extended, using different parts of the body. The whole
body can be set into a wringing motion--for example in yawning.

Wringing movements of the arms can be directed into various zones, the
most important as far as exercises are concerned being down forwards
outwards, but there are many possibilities--with each arm separately, or
both together, wringing downwards, upwards, across, sideways, forwards and
backwards, extending into space in all directions.

Wringing should also be experienced in other parts of the body, such as
the shoulders, trunk, hips, legs, not only extending into space away from
the body, but towards it. Other possible variations are wringing simultan-
eously with both arms in different directions, or wringing with different
parts of the body into various directions; for example, wringing the trunk
in a backwards-bending movement and doing the same action with arms
sideways high, _et cetera._


"Indulging with" Space and Time, and "fighting against" Weight, which is
the essence of wringing, develops a valuable control and gives and
entirely different movement-experience from that gained by doing simple
twisting exercises. The counter-tensions involved produce a different kind
of bound flexibility from that met with in any other form of physical

(Rudolf Laban, Modern Educational Dance, 1948, pp. 63-65.)

Thank you for allowing me to present this material. If you have any
questions, please contact me; again, apologies for not being able to
present this in person.

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