Reading: Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen — Generic Singularity

Some months ago (Which tells you how much I’ve slipped on blogging what I’m reading), I was in Saint George’s picking up something or other and talking with Paul, and found myself holding a rather heavy slab of pages bound in starkly impressive yellow. A book on the philosophy of aesthetics, art, and artists by a Berlin artist, Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen. It wasn’t so expensive as far as heavy philosophical publications go, so I took it home. I’d been reading a bit on aesthetics at the time, so it seemed fitting.

I began reading it last night, after finishing with Hannu Rajaniemi, and did the usual “peruse the index and bibliography” finding plenty of the current philosophical idols, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, even Kristeva, Heidegger, Kant, Merleau-Ponty … Lacan … fucking Freud … ok, off to the table of contents then.

For a very long time I’ve had a simple, effective method to elucidate if an author is worth reading or is in fact full of shit. Germain Greer and Margaret Atwood are full of shit. Oh but their blahblah is so good and important and they are important writers, nay, National Treasures! They also happen to have made some extremely transphobic statements in the past that if they’d made such remarks about gays, lesbians, Jews, any other group whom we all have an articulate understanding of how they are stigmatised in society, we would always mention this in the same breath, just as we do with, say, Wagner and his anti-semitism. Yet it was perfectly acceptable in ’70s and ’80s feminism to advocate genocide for transgender people (largely at that time referring to trans women), and despite vast change and improvement, especially in the last decade, the level of stupidity emanating from people who should know better is tiresomely common. Hence my need for a simple, effective method of working out if a writer should be taken seriously, or if they’re ignorant, dangerous bigots: Has said person made transphobic statements or remarks, yes/no?

Which brings me to 2. OWN BEING. A. The intimacy of own being. 2. The monstrous body. 1. The sexual plane. of Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen Generic Singularity. ‘The monstrous body’. I have a little yawn. It’s as large a cliché – and misunderstanding – as ‘gender is performance’. A quote from Spinoza. I like Spinoza a lot. “No one has thus far determined what the body can do.” The lazy thing to do now in philosophy is to waste a few trees chanting ‘monstrous, monstrous’ until it forms a fetish in the utterer’s throat and one can feel all scatologically ‘edgy’. It’s become vanishingly rare in the current time of queer philosophy for any body that in some small way seems to jar against the claimed homogeneous norm to not be named monstrous and thus achieve awesomeness. My yawn at Spinoza and ‘monstrous’, and the conspicuous lack of female authors in the bibliography (around ten in total on fifteen pages of bibliography – or one for each Heidegger work cited) … well, we can see where this is going.

Page 65: “A sub-phenomenon is the question of transgendering.” I let out a “What the fuck!” right there. What exactly the fuck, Asmund, is ‘transgendering’? Oh, wait, let me continue! “These are instances where a man feels like a woman or a woman feels like a man and pursues this feeling to the point of altering his or her body through surgery, hormone treatments, name-change and clothing-change.” Which is where I put this waste of paper down and fight back the urge to spit. It’s the cis equivalent of mansplaining. (He then goes on to bizarrely conflate gender identity with sexuality, and later claims that neuroscience can differentiate male and female brains. I laugh a little at the mediocrity.)

I have no idea where he got the word transgendering from, but it’s not in common use on any of the queer, feminist, trans, anthropological, journalistic, human rights (and so on) websites and blogs I read, nor in any serious literature I can recall in around two decades of reading in this area. It does seem to be more associated with anti-trans sentiments, either of a right-wing or radical feminism perspective, which I think wasn’t the kind of ‘monstrous’ Asmund was aiming for.

The succinct point here is Asmund doesn’t know what he’s talking about by any reasonable measure when it comes to writing about transgender (bodies, issues, identities, legal and medical matters etc) and has merely co-opted the lives of transgender people of which he knows nothing about to push his own ‘edgy’, ‘radical’ philosophical aesthetic. This is bullshit, wrapped in academic language and propped up with two thousand years of western philosophers. And if he’s so wilfully completely incompetent when writing about trans people, we have to assume his incompetence on everything else he’s written. There are many, many brilliant works written in philosophy, on aesthetics, on art, on identity. This isn’t one of them. This is a work full of shit.

Abjection again

Back on the rehearsal bandwagon. I’ve made a geas, or maybe curse with myself, that until I get abjection finished, no more taking other jobs. Yes, solos are horribly awful for me and I could continue to the end of the universe and still be working on this but let’s be a little more efficient, practical, realistic with time frames here. Rehearsing again, gently because it’s potentially brutal and I like that my body is mostly in a state of coherency. And downstairs in Alte Kantine. At night, yes.

Three nights for a couple of hours each, most of which was going through the usual warmup, which seems fairly useful and applicable to the movement, so just getting comfortable with that again, not over-reaching myself, remembering what it is I do. Isabelle has turned out to be an influence – on my shoulder blades at least, and later this week shall come and have a watch (also part of my geas, having what I’m doing seen; seeing and so making it real). I started working on the text verbal spoken throat-lung vibrational noise words mouth tongue front of face dance stuff. Julia Kristeva, that is. Then I discovered her text from Powers of Horror is nice to read within one’s head, or even perhaps reading while moving lips silently, but is dead horrid as a piece of monologue text. Butchery, then. As easy as one of that employment swinging a sharp knife through the gristle and joints. Now it looks like there might not be enough text.

Then there’s how to say it. I have a feeling it goes into something in the general phase space of Black Metal vocalities, wondering if it will become incoherent, wondering if that matters, wondering if I can make enough sounds. That’s for tonight, anyway.

abjection — Rehearsal 3

Music this afternoon was: Gorgoroth, Antichrist; Mayhem, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas; plus bits of Horn’s Jahreszeiten, and Sunn O)))’s The Grimm Robe Demos and Black One. Also horrible, horrible jazz trombone/trumpet noodling filtering down from the rehearsal room upstairs. I played Mayhem very loudly then, and worked on my voice.

My voice, which goes from tubercular emptying of mastodon lungs up to “I’ve just sucked on helium!” in a series of arbitrary steps. There’s a huge gap in my register from high to helium, and above that very occasionally I can hit “tinnitus”, but none of these noises are connected. There’s also some “hypothetical notes” I know I can manifest in my throat if I can just twist my thinking a bit.

I was working a bit of some text which comes from Julia Kristeva’s The Powers of Horror, and oh dear she is a melodramatic writer, it’s all poetico-freudian. Possibly it’s the translation but I had quite a few moments of high embarrassment trying to turn bits of this into a script. A task for a lazy Sunday and a hatchet.

Five hours of solitary excitement today. There’s nothing much else to do but keep hacking away at whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and I don’t actually think I know. As usual, I spent most of the time working on movement — getting myself moving without suffering, and I’m really physically far from dancerly at the moment, as well as actually ‘dancing’, looking all old and arthritic compared to what I was doing last year.

And a bit of realisation I’ve reached the point of remaking the wheel, where last year I got some ideas fairly coherent and there’s not a lot of point in improvising for three hours solid trying to come up with ideas when they already exist. Though new stuff is also sprouting. I think I need to cut some of this in Final Cut and make sense of it (I video most of my messings around), try and recreate a single stream of performance, rather than bash away blindly at the same thing over and over from different sides. I have three days of rehearsal next week, so shall apply myself to this then.

The good news for my knee is that arthroscopy is no longer really likely, as it seems to have recovered mostly and the standard test don’t elicit a yipe from me, though I can’t imagine myself being able to do the stuff I was doing last year in any way in the near future.

So, abjection trolleys along. I definitely have the need to vanish into a studio for six weeks and really crawl into the bowel of this piece; there’s too much stuff that requires an intensity that doing it only a couple of times a week isn’t going to prepare me for.

In the meantime, there’s jute disintegration with Dasniya this weekend, things with Melanie Lane in December and possibly oh yes possible something with Daniel Jaber also. Excitement? Yes!

abjection — night 2

A shorter night by one hour. Last week I found four hours almost too long, so decided for only three this week. I was scrabbling to get out the door on time, so next week shall return (on a proper dance floor even) for another four hours.

I’d mentioned to Daniel that I was going to have to find a crash mat to remember how to do all the boot camp stuff from ADT. He wrote back, “honey, crash mats for bootcamp is not so necessary if you don’t have them heres some handys.”, followed by a list of things I can’t really do. So I tried to do some of it tonight.

Mainly I have a feeling that the section I am working on, while being improvised, has a highly coherent structure and progression, and while certain things I have a feeling will happen equally might not happen, the two nights of rehearsals have resulted in some fairly consistent ideas. So I spent some time remembering physically how to roll on the floor, how to slide, how to keep low and move.

After boot camp, I spent a bit of time doing some of the Emio Greco technique I could remember from the Double Skin/Double Mind workshops, thinking about this pushing myself to exhaustion and having a very specific movement dynamic that comes from the flicking and shaking of limbs.

Last week was a bit of exuberance; the unknown as I’d seen it behind my eyes becoming real. This week … well not to repeat myself for one, was more methodical. A good half an hour altogether spent analysing at first very slowly, and then with all the assistance of gravity, what happens when I release from a high relevé, stretching up with tension, dropping to a squat, one let turned in, the inside edge of my foot, shin and knee on the floor, the other standing flat on my foot, bum to heel. And from that, what is the action of undropping? If I can go down so fast with gravity, how can I go up just as fast?

It feels like — and is — years since I did this stuff, but even then, never on my own.

This dropping/undropping, some large flicks of elbow and arm, and something incoherently black metal are small things that seem to be coalescing in this section — which for the moment is all I’m working on. The other parts are churning around me, though they don’t feel so critical to solve just yet. As with last week, I videoed it all, and shall have to find some time to cut things out and find in the unaware instances the pieces that are this piece.

Music was again Gorgoroth — this week I had Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam. I also tried some Burzum and various things Attila Csihar, Tormentor, Mayhem … also Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture (which Daniel will remember). It’s something in the music certainly, but something more in the voice. Gaahl and Attila both have this, as well as a visual terror.

I’m not sure if this section will have music though. To have loud black metal blasting from a set of room-filling speakers, or even Tannhäuser, gives an unavoidable colour to the movement and work. Yet in silence it reads as inscrutable, opaque — that thing I hate most in contemporary dance, where the audience is supposed to believe something really important is going on. I’d sooner kill this part than have it become such a worthless thing as that.

Now to wait another week until I do this again. It’s not enough. I’m thinking about it every day, and the curious thing is I have no idea where or when it might get performed.

abjection — night 1

Usually I say, “[name of work] — day 1“, but it’s reasonably fitting for abjection to say, “night 1“, being a somewhat dark piece. After a little work on some ideas in Madrid, and much, much thinking, reading, researching, going over a couple of years now, whatever this piece is, it’s coalesced into something recognisable in my head. Would that I would simply extract the film from behind my eyes, and use that to learn the whole work. instead …

I am rehearsing in Theaterhaus Mitte, in an old school by Märkisches Museum. Which is to say, I’m rehearsing in a classroom. It is night, so the windows make adequate mirrors when I need, and my laptop records my two-three minute bursts of exuberance (then I sit down for a while). I am rehearsing there because it is cheap. I can afford an evening rehearsal for the cost of lunch. I also somehow like the place. It has a feeling I don’t feel alien from. It’s small though, but of the moment it will suffice.

The musical accompaniment was Gorgoroth’s Antichrist. I find Gaahl very attractive at the moment, aesthetically as well as visually (yes, he didn’t join till after Antichrist, and only on Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam does he write the music and lyrics, but … I only had Antichrist yesterday), and the tinniness of black metal, sounding like it was playing on a transistor radio suited the ambience.

I’d been wanting to work on the movement parts of abjection in a studio first. Mainly because the other parts I can rehearse elsewhere initially, and the dancing needs both some room to avoid walls as well as the mentality that comes from being in a studio. I’ve taken to videoing myself for each improvisation (managing to get through most of Antichrist in 2 1/2 hours), trying out different ideas, but altogether very much on one path.

There is a definite — and far more apparent than I expected — black metal attitude to it, or maybe to say if some choreographers use jazz or disco as their motivation and the movement of those genres comes across in the performance, then I’ve done the same with meiner Lieblingsmusik. What was also blaringly obvious is that for me to do what I am going to have to, to make this scene function (and the whole piece), I’ll have to spend some intense rehearsal time working out the mechanics of particular movements; training like boot camp at ADT. The thought of what I’m embarking on — and I was stiff and sore this morning, dragging myself to ballet — is like facing a mountain. I mean so literally. When one is close to a behemoth, it becomes self-evident that endurance and a fair number of bruises shall constitute the immediate future.

I spent the last hour working on the text from Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, which at the moment, along with a Cantonese Opera demon and a cleaver, constitutes the beginning of the work. I’m conflicted with Kristeva. I am deeply suspicious of any philosopher who seriously entertains psychoanalysis as a legitimate field, firstly because it simply is incoherent with regard to scientific understanding of the mind and secondly because my introduction to philosophy was Deleuze and Guattari. Further, her extremely uncritical involvement with China during the cultural revolution should legitimately be a stain on her reputation equal to any collaborationist.

I’m not sure how I would postulate a Deleuzian regard of the idea of abjection, or whether it’s especially necessary. I’m concerned with a particular horror of one’s self’s corporeality, one that is also perhaps a little unreflective, inchoate, and in this, the part of Powers of Horror in Chapter 1, Neither Subject nor Object, has this.

For the moment, I’m rehearsing once a week. Nor much, perhaps additional fooling around on my own, getting things together. I have no idea when it will fall into a proper rehearsal period, even less get performed — particular things such as a large octopus (deceased), are likely to require significant organisation (and refrigerating). Nonetheless, it’s very nice to be making something again.


Having taken some time to get this far, I spent the last couple of days extracting a couple of year’s of notes from my old abjection notebook and transplanting them into a new one. Some original ideas now seem embarrassing. Others it’s surprising how little they changed, springing fully-formed to life, and merely refining themselves over time.

I sat in a café yesterday before ballet, reading Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre. At times the bias of the author is plain; the faint discrimination of which he speaks, I try to read it by changing words, to eradicate this irritation, yet quickly the meaning entangles itself into incomprehension, and I see the only option would be to rewrite these parts entirely.

Still, I come across a description of photography that once more causes a scene to spring fully-formed to life. It feels as if it is one of the remaining missing scenes now accounted for. Difficult to say. It is though comprehensively different from anything else in the work, and so without having been there so early, reading and making notes, there is no way it would have otherwise occurred to me.

For the moment then, this leaves one last unidentified scene. Some possibilities exist for it amidst the ideas which have the feeling of failed seeds, but equally, all of them feel somewhat arrangements of convenience; used because none better exist.

It’s new for me to make a work thus. Normally I do have notes and ideas, and dim visions of what they might amount to, but for abjection, I’ve been working on it and thinking over it for so long, it’s coalesced in my thoughts into a nearly complete work. As for what the effects being in a studio and rehearsing might have on it, that I will begin to find out next week.

Yes, finally coerced myself into rehearsals.

pestilence days 15-17

I’ve been editing DVDs this week, first all the people i can remember sleeping with…, then monadologie, and in the background, this, pestilence. Mostly because the source material will take some time to prepare, images, audio, remembering to de-interlace the video when I export to m2v… And I was looking through my folder of choreography, the works I’ve made since 2002, and thinking, ‘ooooo!!! would be rather nice to start another piece!!!’, except I have three now in varying stages of completeness that may never see anything further eventuate.

I wanted to not choreograph, and this was something that came from monadologie, how to evolve rules that could operate from initial conditions to generate something the same, something different every time. There my realisation was that it’s formidably difficult to do this to the entirety of a choreographed body in a single instant. This time I think, rather than focus on the minute details, it was the gross, most easily seen dancing and dancing together that somehow seemed to be made.

I was interested in the Tarantella both as a formal dance of the era blanketed by pestilence, and as some ecstatic, frenzied, mad collective convulsion brought on by a spider bite, or the plague, or typhus, or an expurging of the horror of war, famine, disease, suffering. So it was initially a retinue of corporeal, digestive and pulmonary spasms, we’d do and video and watch and criticise and repeat, eventually to make something consistent between us.

Lately I keep returning to Kristeva and abjection, and perhaps as is similar with my favourite Baudrillard quote, her musing on this horror represents an over-arching concern in my work. Perhaps a good name for a piece sometime. These same days rehearsing I made a remark about calling a piece, ‘ugly stuff for beautiful people because i hate you’, a continuation of the idea in ‘i like hate and hate everything else’. And around this time I was talking with Daniel about how precarious my existence is because I am held at the whim and pleasure of a medical establishment that is acutely conservative and perhaps without the cultural and political pressure exerted by queers of all stripes, collectively we would find ourselves pathologised in ways and degrees we hope have been consigned to a shameful history.

So the tarantella was both a possessed malady and transcendentally ecstatic, and furthermore communal. So Daniel and I learnt to do this together, to convulse and shiver and trip, stagger, fall, lose balance and control, neither follow nor lead, both anticipate each other and keep going for as long as we could. Over time with this… mmm it becomes unverbalised, all the rules or parameters or suggestions, and maybe this is so much of this work. We got quite good at moving together and fast without preexisting steps…

Unverbalised. Possibly explaining the paucity of writing in my notebook, the cursory research, and unpredictable blogging. So much of this work was made from talking around it, one or two lines maybe and then frequent scatological digressions and bodily humour. So different from my long-standing over-compensating, evenings spent planning the next day, justifying every decision. But of everything in this piece, the Tarantella, set to Wagner’s Tannhauser overture is possibly the one unfolding of a new thought in all the previous several weeks.

pestilence last days

If I’m looking for acceptable, believable excuses, then lack of internet at home, necessary for late-night bed blogging, and an on-going crappiness with internet at Cibo are amenable to this patheticness. Other more feasible excuses include lack of interest compounded by the above two, and a sense of pause or finishing in my life.

Friday night was the last rehearsal of pestilence. Daniel and I worked in the afternoon for some hours on the six sections and returned in the darkness with Alison to video it all till past midnight. We dance well at night, something fragile in the world, a timelessness, not awake, nor tired, not hungry nor sated, and minutes, hours speed past.

I was walking home this afternoon along Gouger St, past the entire block of former car dealers and other nondescript warehouse industry, white painted film-set uprights, all now fenced off for some, I imagine, gentrification-of-the-West-End project, or perhaps multi-story carparks. In the weak sun I thought it was necessary to blog in hindsight these last couple of weeks, something otherwise missing from this long and unusual project.

It was a project unlike any other, not the least for not having a end-of-project showing of some type (and Friday night while feeling in our bodies like a performance, was… something other), and further for the lack of methods I’ve used in other projects, or more precisely maybe, a lack of my usual obsessive analysing and daily preparation.

I just couldn’t bring myself to do that again this time. I couldn’t find any satisfaction in any of the texts I’d read in preparation, I couldn’t drag anything from this, I desperately didn’t want to repeat myself, and yet had no idea how to make something I’d not done before.

The day before, we revisited the Holbein stuff, grab-bite-drop, which came from all the people…, and has been sitting there doing nothing for about a month. With unusual application, we managed to relearn them and add in extra bits for some 1 1/2 minutes of madness. Choreography of a type. It was fun to do and injected some life into us, and terror, and bruises, swellings, numb funny bones, abrasions and other expected menaces of falling over.

And then the Tarantella. Tannhauser. Ecstatic, desperate wild and transcendental dancing, how to choreograph without steps, how to remain together, how to endure this for what feels like an eternity.

I’ve started editing the dvd of Friday night, and… it’s not usual for me to spend too much time watching my stuff after I’ve finished, I need to remember it in a way from inside, unlike perhaps when I’m not performing in it. But I’ll have to watch it somewhat in the next week, and make some statements, vague, blind gropings for what this piece could be if it was to be finished in some manner. So perhaps to write them here also.


pestilence day 14

Obviously today I am completely distracted and nervous and managed to do little except lie on the floor spontaneously falling asleep, inbetween working on the abjection stuff and going through most of the scenes we have already. I won’t be rehearsing till later this week for reasons to do with aforementioned nervousness.

Anyway, until I return from a small holiday, here are some photos of flowers, Lilies.