SIDE A: the surface of the century battles the profound of the century
On May 29, 1913, Valentine Cross-Hugo wrote the following:
“All that has been written about the battle of the Rite of Spring is inferior to reality. It was as if the room had been hit by an earthquake. The room seemed to hesitate within the uproar. Shouting, slander, howling, hissing that took over the music...”
What happened on this day? It is difficult to retrace ones steps, but it is also difficult to start today, especially when one has to start from the very same. How to talk about the same? How to flesh something out?
In 1913, when War with a capital W was not yet possible, The Rite of Spring – described above by Valentine- came into existence. Considered today as the magnum opus of modernity (as many other “magnum” works of the 20th century that were also recognised a posteriori), the Rite, or at least its “ghost-making-machine” identity, brought us to 2013 with the feeling that 100 years intensified memory. That is, if one can preserve a certain notion of scandal and ritual of imitation. Since the controversy caused by Diaghilev and Stravinsky’s presentation at the Champs Elysées theatre - accompanied by howling, shouts and the trembling of distraught ladies and gentlemen - echoes and voices about the scandal and the incapacity of the audience in accepting the new, along with the discovery of an obscure dimension of human nature and its incapacity to accept the inhumane, have reverberated unrelentingly and until today.
How does one start anew? It could be a lot easier than it seems: if no one has forgotten The Rite of Spring until today, it is simply because it could not be forgotten. The facts prove it; its disruption demanded us to carry it on. After its premiere, when the decision was made to recuperate the lost vision of the Rite, which no one had re-staged after the scandal, leading to the inauguration of a compulsive historical motivation that led to the re-staging of more than 300 versions of the play, it was evident that a myth was born. A “foundational myth”, that is, a fire one should not play with. And once the myth is retrospectively explained, the existence of hundreds of versions of the Rite is simply a game of accurately explained arguments resulting from its mythical origin.
However, despite the tautological and self-explanatory characteristics of the myth, when history and myth seem to function within the same structures, our distrust is immediate. On the other hand, there are elements that allow one to think about the repercussion of this choreography upon our bodies, elements that surpass the thought about popularity and myth making. One needs only to intersect these bodies with time data and the marks of the century. Ideas and bodies blend, bodies can sustain plenty and can even mix the several orders and nature that logic separates.
Let us begin with Nijinsky, the mythical madman from the depths of the 20th century, which along with Artaud, and even Aby Warburg (who also suffered from nerves, a fact that many are unaware of). Nijinsky knew better than anyone else how to portray the troubled nature of his contemporaries, a nature paradoxically impelled to implode and to expose itself to the outside. Nijinsky, a Freudian animist , a wizard of irrationalities ready to be revealed, created a choreography of liberation. Freud explained, Nijinsky made, and others continued this work, revealing the interior of humans as a possible infinite space, with its inexhaustible psychic and libidinal economy, even when inhabited by death impulses, irrationality, violence, fauna-becomings, flora-becomings.
Retrospectively, one could argue that the repression of the emotional and affective dimensions during this period was so strong that the Unconscious described by Freud, even if wanting to liberate itself, became fatally responsible for revealing the worst and the best of ourselves; a pure “ancestral Terror” machine, as described by Preljocaj apropos his version of the Rite (2001). One of the 20th century trademarks would then be a mad Nijinsky, alongside the construction of a choreography divided between Apollo and Dionysius’ combat, with the particular flesh of a War (with a capital W) that was about to inaugurate the possibility of insecurity and risk in all territories, along with the formalization of Psychoanalysis, which introduced the depth of the I as the “entrails” of the being.
War and the explosion of the psychic went hand in hand with the gradual emergence of the individual as political and psychic unit - the mark of its “I”, of its character, of its figure, or even of an author – producing the framework we recognize and trivialise today. Nijinsky, transformed into a living legend of the 20th century, is perhaps the most singular image of the “unique” mad man, a window to understand a substantial part of the immortalization process of 1913’s Rite into a classic dance work.
In a book about this particular 20th century (“The century” scripted in the beginning of the year 2000), Badiou argues that in order to approach something of the 20th century one needs a methodology: “My idea is that we stick as closely as possible to the subjectivities of the century. Not just to any subjectivity, but precisely to the kind of subjectivity that relates to the century itself. The goal is to try and see if the phase ‘twentieth century’ bears a certain pertinence of thinking, in a manner that goes beyond mere empirical calculation. Thus, we will adopt a method of maximal interiority. Our aim is not to judge the century as an objective datum, but rather to ask how it has come to be subjectivated.”
What Badiou proposes is a method of maximum interiority that threads carefully on a glasshouse, without fearing the possibility of its overlapping firmness and fragility.
SIDE B – same old song, but different
From 1913 to 2013, we lived a century. But what century was that? A hiatus of one hundred years inhabited by a myriad of versions of this majestic work, some of them jam-packed with sudden epiphanies about a return to pagan esotericism, others convinced that memory could be rescued through formal refinement, favouring the choreography and the complex mathematics of the steps. Why this incessant return? The testimonials and articles written by choreographers and critics, insist on reminding us that the work was once 100% original and that it was lost on the following day (after the scandal that was its premiere). Therefore, its aura was real and precious, since on the day it was presented it was The Most Beautiful (see, the Most Rare).
Thus, a work between the loud primitivism and the eulogy to technical virtuosity, intensely rethought by Dance History and fuelled by contradictions that increased its interest through time, was born. Can one, therefore, argue that it is in this historical development of the Rite that the oeuvre constitutes itself? Or that, at least, the rereading of its memories and innumerable restagings opens a possible contemporary notion of oeuvre (and rite)? Take, for example, how our memory of 100 years to The Rite of Spring bestows itself to the spectacle of the world, how it ritualizes on behalf of a glorification act, or at least for the fixation of a certain tradition in Dance and its insurmountable oeuvres, that is, “erudite”. Take, for example, how a century of the Rite is also a perfect date to mark and commemorate the preservation of a certain “structuralism” of our visions of Art History, ready to project upon its path, an enchantment of mythical appropriation, divided between the interpretations more or less reliable, more or less volcanic, more or less conceptual. Could it be that after one hundred years - from 1913 to 2013 - none of this was lost?
In reality, the emergence of the notion of the disenchantment of the world at the end of the 19th century was an accurate expression for the cogitation of an independent knowledge from God, the sacred and the spheres of divine. However, that process did not stop promoting the enchantment of other worlds, especially the place occupied by the marks of subjectivity, namely, the author, the work, its divine statutes. The historical process of placing an individual (its unity) within the ontological and philosophical centre of society was designated disenchantment, putting an end to a History of theological and political enchantment of the world where the individual is only relevant when part of the whole. To a certain extent, the conflict between universal and singular will remain as the greatest challenge of modern times, since the modern subject, when considering its new psychological framework and its novel political intransigence, will be born from the ruins of that other being, from that ontological accident. And one could argue that many of these structures persist until today, through the simplest revisiting of a Centennial.
What is then the point of having a deeper structural knowledge of Art History and of the 20th century, if not to organise time retrospectively? A strategy pertaining to lineage and families, justifying that which returns historically through its contexts? Would it be possible, for instance, to predict a particular type of interpretation of The Rite of Spring’s choreography in 2013? Would it be possible to elect the best version on the basis of a concept such as “our time”? Is there something within the structure – social political artistic – allowing us to predict the type of return to the past we will attempt?
Maybe the answer is simple: we will always respond retrospectively, as at present, defining Freud’s sage invention and the beautiful work of Nijinsky as something that “had to happen that way”. Any context is the artifice that we create to love our eternal returns.
If we think about it, in the particular case of Dance, the particularity of seeing a classic constructing itself in the memory of the spectators and artists, as well as a tradition of a modernist choreographic language, is maybe rarer and stronger than all Shakespearean versions put together, since the dimension of the live experience and of non-textual matter is more averse to the schemes of mechanical reproducibility than theatre (as “text”). All this makes more obvious the value of the cult of the oeuvre (at least in the beginning of the century, when registering in video a performance was an impossibility).
One needs only to remember that it was in this century, close to the date when this piece was becoming myth, Walter Benjamin announced that the aura of works of art was irrevocably lost (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” was published in 1936). Benjamin’s central question at the time concerned the loss or rarity (aura) of the work of art and how that implied a shift in its value. Maybe we should contemplate that “transformation” as a process of auratic transference, for example, from the oeuvre to their authors and contexts. Therefore, if with the loss of the aura one looses the cult value of the work of art, on the other hand, one can benefit from the possibility of being able to repeat continuously the world and the work of art, attaining an aura (cult value) of author. The aura of the choreographer was materializing in that exact moment. (Nevertheless, we must recognize, that it is perhaps abusive to employ the same logic of mechanical reproduction, perceived so well by Benjamin within the audio-visual context, in the world of live shows. The above is merely a speculation.)
Let us return to the Rite, a work that keeps returning and has returned repeatedly, a fact that may transform it into a work of the entire 20th century. Let us contemplate how a century of the Rite has brought us a certain dimension of the “eternal return of difference”, as proposed by Deleuze in his eminent book “Difference and repetition” published in 1968, a work that dialogues with some of Nietzsche’s analysis. Deleuze shows us how one can only repeat that which is deferred, since “the wheel in the eternal return is, simultaneously, production of repetition from the difference and a selection of the difference from repetition”.
That is, all the versions of the Rite are simultaneously the identity of the Rite as oeuvre (repetition) and its impossible Rite unit (version-variation that produces differences). That is, the return of a choreography would be a way to create the new from the differences, even if infinitesimal – variations in context and from the questioning of “why does this (still) interest me?”
On the other hand, when one analysis the return of this erudite work about the ghosts of our culture, one would also need to recuperate Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) thought, a historian that attempted to explain the motivation necessary to recover certain works of art in different historical moments, correspondingly in dialogue with Nietzsche’s thought. Warburg understood that the return of the forms was also possible through the return of a particular type of pathos (pathosformeln or pathos forms), which resulted from the incessant and historical battle between infatuated forces, which manifest danger, the mystery of belief and desire (in short, Dionysian forces), and on the other hand, a rhythmic suitability bearing a framing, context and structure (Apollo’s forces, represented by the notion of choreography, science, registry and the preservation of memory).
The return of a work would be caused by a conflict of forces that opened the inexhaustibility of the psychic unconscious. On one hand, the imaginative drive, on the other the conceptual siege (the construction of the works version). And in the midst of all this, one would find the energetic inversion logic of sense produced by the work – the sacrifice and the victory, the martyr and the relief of piety (for example, the Sacrificial Dance in The Rite of Spring). Isn’t sacrificing irresistibly fucktastic?
However, if one wants to rave even further about the dimension of imitation, repetition and return, and the escalation of the classics within art history, one must recover the work of Gabriel Tarde, a fascinating late 19th century sociologist that severed my heart with his vision of imitative sociology, expanding our understanding of the idea of recuperation and psychological conflict in Warburg, or Benjamin’s idea of auratic transference. Gabriel Tarde argued that, “all repetition, social, vital, or physical (to consider only the most salient and typical forms of universal repetition), springs from some innovation, just as every light radiates from some central point, and thus throughout science the normal appears to originate from the accidental.”
Universal repetition? For Tarde, innovation and repetition are in reality two halves of a same movement. In his analysis of the laws of imitation, there are three main types of universal repetition, intertwined within the real: 1) the repetition of the physical world (periodic and vibratory movement that may be observed in the chemical, physical and astronomical world), 2) repetition through heredity from the animated world (an analogue relationship between species; histological bodily elements; hereditary and genetic transmission), 3) repetition through imitation in the social world: reproduction of an element in society trough imitation – habit, imitation-fad, imitation-obedience, imitation-instruction, imitation-education, or even, language as reproduction of a code.
In reality, the rapprochement between the physical, animated and human world proposes the same logics for some of the aspects of social life and the physical world, that is, society functions for the author as an organism. For example, Tarde argues that the epidemics of penance, luxury, gambling, stock market speculation, and Hegelianism or Darwinism could be human afflictions. Imagine then a world with a viral movement, where returning to an oeuvre, to paganism, to the renovation of historical ties with Russian pagan culture, as present in the work of Nicolas Roerich and the musical work of Stravinsky, would be an organic movement that arises from the movement of planetary repetition! The world played in velocity games, where the characters would say:
- Passions without gravity, where can You take the Without I?
- Dear Muse without I, here one navigates as if in the ocean, but no one knows what is a boat. We need to dive into the possibility of not being subjects, centres of gravity of a world that does not belong to us.
But there are also differences. If in the physical world repetition is periodical, tending towards intertwinement, and analogous or contiguous durations, in the case of repetition between social beings, the tendency is to separate, towards detachment and division amongst beings.
“Imitation does still better; its influence is exerted not only over a great distance, but over great intervals of time. It establishes a pregnant relation between the inventor and his copier, separated as they may be by the thousands of years, […] between the Roman painter of a Pompeiian fresco and the modern decorator whom it has inspired. Imitation is generation at a distance.”
In the above quotation, the copy and updating of a work of art would be partially explained: a movement of imitation at a distance, without the need to scour the entirety of art history, re-updating the pieces that awaken a certain historical moment, its context. All invention is then an answer to a problem.
Under our initial question (what century was the 20th century and why does an oeuvre return?) the interesting thing would be to understand what would cause a certain invention to emerge in a certain moment and context, that is, why have certain problems been posed and how does one find certain solutions. Tarde described, for example, invention as an “individual initiative”, in order to explain the gesture that leads to the suspension of a certain course of events, producing a difference.
But the question in this text resides in the fact that most of the histories told about “individual initiatives” are based on fictional narratives about the degree of genius of its authors, or on mere commercial, political, military context relationships. We sang that song at the beginning of our text. Another hypothesis would be to explain invention retroactively. We also sang that song. It is difficult to understand that our way of knowing may halt completely the possibility of unpredictability, since it only knows what it repeats, what is established as sense.
Tarde argued that humans tend to repeat and copy themselves, most of the times without even moving in order to accomplish it. Humans act upon each other, through indefinite distances, as molecules of seawater that do not need to move to move the sea. Even if only imitation has actual rules, since invention already seems to belong to the marshy field of the arbitrary, it would be necessary to see each repetition as a micro-invention, that is, all repetition as difference. According to Tarde, “to exist is to defer”.
What counts are not the individuals, but their relationships of association, repetition, opposition. In that sense, a repetition of The Rite of Spring, could even be a Counter-Imitation, since it is unnecessary to produce only similarities in order to emulate something. Imitation can be produced through a movement of opposition. What counts in the end end end, we argue, is the multiplications of visions, relationships and agents, that is, the contrary of a structural and causal vision of the events. It is necessary to repeat incessantly, amplifying our relationships of meaning with the past.
But repeat how and why?? One should consider our century, the 21st century of today, and how it reproduces and imitates compulsively, creating an almost mechanical reproducibility of the individuals and their subjective variations. One should consider the current information society as an infinite composition of analogous things, since each invention tends to propagate itself exponentially through the world. When something is generalized continuously and globally, where does the potency of differentiation lie? Is it healthy to the process of repetition, for instance, to mine and oust competition and counter-imitation? That would be a hard-hitting interrogation towards our time, to its viral dimension, seen as contagion, as infinite reproduction of gestures and knowledge. A process of standardising tendency is underway, one that produces a civilization that is emulated at an exponential scale, liquidating all the other civilizations. A certain Benjaminian thought concerning mechanicalness reaches us – the idea that it would be possible to attain an almost total reproducibility of those infinite variations of subjectivity, which would then remove efficiently the auratic weight of the “rare human being” and open inverse paths.
In order to end our reflexion, we return to one question that certainly went through our minds: which version of The Rite of Spring would be “ideal” in 2013? Is a contemporary version possible? On one hand, we can at last free ourselves, through the massive practice of repetition, variation and simulation, of the weight of being a “special being” (namely, the author). We can merely be. On the other hand, we have ousted heterogeneity and have created only a flat space, where all variations seem to be already-known, already-felt and already-understood. What would then be the possible version of The Rite of Spring in 2013? A timid response would consist in saying that the dissolution of the aura, proposed by Benjamin, might be experiencing today a second historical moment. To repeat presently might not imply the affirmation of an authorial gesture, but on the contrary represent a fusion with words, steps, and rhythms of others. The second response would consist in saying that many of the 20th century classics come crashing today from the military aeroplanes of past wars. Concluding with a riddle of the sphinx:
To see is not enough. One needs to fly over see. That is the luceidity of our time. Aeroplanes, for what?