Dispossession Through Flesh: Thoughts on Dance

By Allison Blakeney

 Where my words fail, my body begins. I still have not figured out how to express myself entirely through the scratches of ink on paper or the electronic translation of typing which now counts as writing, or even how to manifest into words the imaginative formulations which speed through my head. Yet somehow the flesh of such a messy life has an ink of its own. It picks up where all else is left off and I’m sent flying into form–into what feels like an alternative linguistic reality, which rushes through me beyond (or beside) my control: corporeal dispossession.

Somewhere in the corporeal dispossession, which I also call a fleshy dance, my hopelessness, my desire, and my grief are exorcised into expression, sending connection through imagination that stretches the boundaries of my own skin; this imagination is fleshly. In this world, and in relation to the current national and world affairs, this fleshy dance often if not almost always rushes through me with the grief and desire that come from living in a world that I do not want. Dance, or corporeal dispossession, takes over propelling me to feel where it hurts, to insist this is hurt is caused by the broken systems that bruise me deeply every day, and to follow grief and desire, especially when it means thrashing snot and tears around to feel the pain between the flesh that peels from the bone; in this thrash, I find the fascia that struggles to hang on–fascia that keeps me connected.

In my attempt to understand my experience of dance, I find a connection between it and what Judith Butler says about mourning in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, “[…] one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance” (21). Here Butler considers grieving the loss of life, what happens during this grieving process, and whose lives count as grievable. In this consideration, she comes to the idea that through the process of mourning, we are submitted to a transformation that is beyond our control. For me, her conceptualization is not just theoretical; when I allow the physical force of this mourning to saturate me, I feel the corporeal inevitability and vulnerability of the transformation. After submitting to such a transformation, something happens within the fibrous materials that create my flesh such that I am transformed “for another or by virtue of another” (Butler 24), physically, tangibly, and in the form of fleshy dance.

Butler also asserts that this transformation happens during desire (23). Within this transformation, the end result of which we do not and cannot know, we are what Butler calls “dispossessed” (24) of ourselves. It seems that especially when we consider the many kinds of problematized desire and the grief that come from the localized place and moment that I write this paper (an America that was built on genocide and slavery, that has people who still experience such tremendous violence, and that is about to be controlled by–with severe global effect–a president manifested from this exact history), grief and problematized desire are abundant. They are experienced by those of us who do not count as grievable, by those of us “who are living in certain ways beside ourselves, whether in sexual passion, or emotional grief, or political rage” (24). Insisting on this dispossession of the self through grief and desire is imperative because it binds our liberation.

For those of us who refuse to or cannot submit to these violent hegemonic powers that necessitate murder and problematize desire, we already live beside ourselves because we cast ourselves out toward another out of necessity. This dispossession seems necessary, though not sufficient, for relationality. Butler hesitates to use this word because she also sees it as insufficient and as something different than her formulation of dispossession (24), however, in my personal experience, relationality is imperative because it binds our liberation across seemingly foreclosed identities so that we can continue to exist, fight, and imagine otherwise in such a violent world where existence feels, at least for me personally, compartmentalized, disintegrated, and fractured. When I am for another, I am in connection with many others. I am reminded of the reasons to continue on in life.

My understanding of the vulnerability that comes through grief and desire is illustrated through my flesh:

I imagine walking into the dance studio by myself. When my body melts into the dirty dance floor, covered in the cells (skin, hair, and fluid) of others and the dance takes over, I am dispossessed of myself, possessed of something or someone else, and I am already grieving. I feel connected through a “’common’ corporeal vulnerability” (Butler 42)–a fleshy dance–that connects me materially and psychically to others. What’s more is that if I enter into the studio with others, if we make that unspoken contract of vulnerability (which is perhaps already made outside of our control), I start to feel the other person’s dispossession of self toward me and I start to understand their sorrow and their desire. Our sweat drips onto the other’s skin and soaks into the flesh creating a connective incorporation; in the psychic sense we are overcome by something other, some insistence of another self through desire and often grief. Corporeally, we are bound in a vulnerable dance of the flesh.

For people who necessarily grieve more, for those of us who experience more deaths around us, for those who never know when we will be haunted by those not yet considered grievable, and for those of us who are living beside ourselves, we have little choice but the dispossession of self for and by virtue of another in corporeal vulnerability; we are already connected through a fleshy dance.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. 2nd ed.,Verso, 2006.

Pic: Allison Blakeney


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