The Theories Have Become Their Dancing: Reflections on #ITC2015's Artistic Nocturne

Metaphorphosis, Night I 

In the weeks after #ITC2015, I've been wanting to articulate the impact the nighttime events had on my experience of the conference. This has been difficult, because, after all, how do you report on art? And the main question I had on my mind approaching the conference was: how does the art relate to Integral Theory, let alone Meta Theory? I kept that question with me as the daytime panels faded into the twinkling of the evening stars – a sight I am unaccustomed to in New York sky gazing. After attending the opening event with Mark and Sean (you can read my coverage of that here), conference goers began to leave the hall. Some stayed as the pics were repositioned for the open mic readings (a few of them are on the ITC Facebook page). This night was entitled, "METAPHORPHOSIS: Embodied Poetics and Integral Slam". Poets like Mindy Nettifee, Jason Bayani, "Might" Mike McGee and Robert Karimi were wonderful. Afterwards, DJ Adamah cleared the seats and opened the floor to a dance party. 

Conference attendees filtered in for the music, the poetry, and especially the dancing. Others mingled quietly by their dorms, or walked in small groups around the village. The DJ's beats could be heard thumping over the sleepy clusters of houses. I'd returned to my dorm, "Alicante", where friends like Trevor, Chris, and David sat with me in the common room. The screen door was left open into the cool night, musical beats carrying themselves lightly on the air. It wasn't long before we were hosting our own party – a gathering of kindred spirits as the beer and wine bottles were opened and the discussions invigorated by the excitement and energy of Mark's libations, Sean's introduction, and the evening performances all swirled in our hearts. It had been a few years since many of us had last seen each other. I met virtual acquaintances, face-to-face. 

The night was just revving up. 

The night was just revving up. 

It's difficult to convey the importance the village atmosphere – the meandering evenings from house to house, musical event to starlit walks with friends – had on the experience of the conference. I felt like I had touched down, not in California, but some intentional village. Perhaps a planetary one; meta theories and discussions on ecology, gender, and economics were bristling up against each other. It was a conference, after all, but I might as well have been meandering in some urban college district, where culture was alive, cafes were lit up with the infusion of music, poetry, and intelligentsia. This felt like the right way to do a conference. Especially for a subject as cognitively challenging and vigorous as Integral Theory and Meta Theory proper. The ingredients for fruitful dialogue, for deepening friendship, and even for my writing as the live blogger here, were all there. I am sure many have echoed these feelings about ITC2015.

Many seemed to love the performances – they were powerful and reflective, but I think the impact of having art at a traditionally theoretical conference didn't hit everyone until Friday night's WRESTLING JERUSALEM. I'll get to that in a moment. 

The theories, this evening, had become their silence.

Words evaporated into starlight.

Cool air is our thesis and the doctrine is expanse.

And what, exactly, is Integral art and performance anyway? The juxtaposition of many different structures of consciousness in play with each other? The DJ remixing music, sound and fury into entrancing embodied language? It could be all these things; if that is the case then we are always-already integral artists in the act of remixing our experience, memory, and the structures of consciousness as we move through the day. 

The structure of daylight/evening dynamism I recognized as deeply important; the infusion of poetry and art into the conference wasn't, I feel, merely an addition. An aggregation of the artistic as integral metaphor. Appendage of theory. No. Theories in themselves are empty of metaphysics and meaning, and where they may convey them they may only do so with the aid of art, myth; of cosmogenesis. We are the co-makers of worlds. Even cognitive and theoretical ones are an act of deep poses.

So, of course, of course, art is more than an expression of theory.

As I mentioned in my opening piece, the importance of the sensitive theorist to cultural evolution lies in the act of listening. Listening to culture. To art. Music, for those sensitive enough to hear it, demonstrates consciousness. It literally performs it. The structures, if they are real, are activities and habits of being in the world. The magic, the mythic, and the mental are performances and embodied activities. So too is the integral. This is why theorists like Edgar Morin are keen to view art as important doorways into the living psyche of a culture. It is why Jean Gebser paid meticulous attention over the course of hundreds of pages, detailing art and artifact to discern the intersubjective dimensions of consciousness, and trace the subtle shifts and transitions happening in the life world of a moment, a gleaning in the history of human civilization. Art and consciousness are a "coming into being," and so we should – as William Irwin Thompson also notes – look at "artifacts" along the way in the evolution of consciousness. Not merely as theorists who stroll through the museum of consciousness, but readily acknowledging the participation we have in the flaring forth of meaningful worlds.

We have, in other words, every reason to partake in and listen to art as the signature of culture and consciousness. As science fiction author Walidah Imarisha writes, "artists are the first architects of our common reality".

Wrestling Jerusalem, Night II

This Friday evening, Miri Gabriel and Robert Karimi opened for Aaron Davidman's solo performance "WRESTLING JERUSALEM". Their joint poem spoke powerfully, and directly, to the lost voices – perhaps to loss itself – in the Israeli-Palistinean conflict. Blood soaked family breakfasts in Palestine and bombs overhead.* My own words don't do this justice; suffice to say it, it was a powerful experience between the two of them. The potency of lives lost. Heavy realization. Breathing out. The Other lost its otherness in this moment.

The importance of perspective taking is right at home with Integral Theory, which postulates many different points-of-view across horizontal and developmental spectrums. But, like any theory, it is balanced, enriched, informed by poetics. Art conveys ambiguity beyond theory's sophistication – even a meta theory.

Aaron Davidman's performance was case in point.

Aaron had little in the way of props, although his choice of sounds, notes, and music made a great minimalist accompaniment to the narrative. It was David – body, voice, gesture – which contained multitudes. Plural utterances and enchanted speech where one voice becomes many. I was reminded of Deleuze on the meaning of utterance:

"...the product of an assemblage – which is always a collective, which brings into play within us and outside us populations, multiplicities, territories, becomings, effects, events. The proper name does not designate a subject, but something which happens..."

Something certainly happened.  "It's complicated". The opening words. Aaron was able to convey that complexity in the immensity of perspectives – Israeli, Palestinian – through the singularity of his one body and voice. Retelling his journey through the Holy City, WRESTLING JERUSALEM attempts to understand and convey the Israeli-Palistinean conflict through the everyday voices of the individuals and friends he makes along the way. Personality shifts would be demarcated by silence, dimmed lights, and what Chris Dierkes would note as a physical – almost fetal – body posture. Aaron would curl up and reemerge as someone new. It takes a lot of energy and dedication to channel so many voices in a single performance, as Aaron would later note in the Q&A.

Raised in a secular, Jewish family from Berkeley, Aaron was truly able to step outside of and beyond himself to bring some of the audience to tears at the personalities he was able to embody (literally). I was struck, especially, by the beauty of Cabalistic mysticism conveyed in the final act; that amidst all the conflicting views and bloodshed, there was a view that we are shards of divine light. Fragments buried in creation. In this moment I viewed a form of Jewish mysticism in deep alignment with the integral and evolutionary mysticism of Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin; as a world-becoming. In that becoming, it seems, there is much pain – yet let us not forget that scattered light in all our world's darkness.

Someone noted during the Q&A that we often forget that the whole notion of perspective taking in integral theory is not talking about abstract world views, but persons. Embodied lives. In a few words, the attendees were struck down out of the theoretical and into an embodied praxis artistic performance is so apt to remind us of. 

Paraphrasing, another person in the audience remarked: "Forget theory!" This was the real deal.

Deeper than Day, Part III

Saturday night's performances were phenomenal. Luckily, there's quite a bit of recordings floating around online. Here I'll share mine. In the video above, you'll see the very talented Butterscotch with Dahlek Brathwaite performing together. 

We also had Mix'd Ingrdnts, an all woman dance troop (YouTube seems to have a copyright issue with my video*), and Riffat Sultana.

While Mix'd Ingrdnts seemed to comment on police brutality through their dance performance (through the usage of siren effects and "Hands up!" gestures), Butterscotch and Dahlek brought another element to the conference. I'm thinking here particularly of Butterscotch's history with the song, "Summertime". As Mark Fabionar notes in our Integral Theory Conference interview, Butterscotch's ancestor was one of the first people to sing "Summertime" by Porgy and Bess. "She has her own interpretation," Mark told me in our interview, bringing her classically trained talents into the mix with beat boxing and hip hop. There is something integral in the notion of remixing as an art form. Indeed, many folks are saying art has been remixing all along. I went into some depth exploring this in my own 2013 presentation at the International Gebser Society Conference, suggesting a connection between the integral a-perspectival in remixing and digital culture. A new dimensionality shines forth – or through – as multiple pieces are brought together. Fragments (think, again to the Cabalistic teaching) are rendered into new wholes through diaphanous integrality. Perhaps this is true of all art. In any case, the evening performances at ITC2015 were certainly, to refer to the Michael Schwartz's art exhibition, "in the spirit of wholeness".

Seeing Through, Part IV

In a recent piece, "Rendering Darkness and Light Present," Aaron Cheak remarks on the integral structure:

The emphasis on diaphany (transparency) arises for Gebser from the perception that the nature of origin (Ursprung) is neither a primordial light nor a primordial darkness but a Diaphainon—that which ‘renders darkness as well as brightness transparent or diaphanous’. [1] Diaphany, for Gebser, is a matrix for the rational structures of consciousness (wakeful logos and light) as well as the pre-rational structures of consciousness (myth, dream, darkness). Like the Upanishadic concept of Turiya (the ‘fourth’ consciousness that lies at the root of all sleeping, dreaming, and waking) diaphany enables a deep openness to the archaic and nocturnal modes of being—the underworld and the unconscious—as equally as it does the light of day.

If we are looking for the meaning of the "cultural performances" and the structure behind each night's events, then perhaps we could suggest here that integrality is in the presenting of both the daylight knowledge and the performative "deeper than day." Nocturne and lecture. We can then return to the older meaning of the word "lecture", to "pick out" and "gather" (lignum in Latin meaning wood). The gathering of both artistic expression – music, beats, and the bricoleur of images, is not unlike the collection of thoughts picked in order to convey meaning.

I am delighted that Mark, Sean and the conference organizers made space for these nocturnes. These imaginal and poetic evenings; they've re-minded us of parts of consciousness we, as academics and intellectuals, are sometimes neglectful of. Getting back in the body. But, integrality, as we might recognize, is a clarity, a seeing through both night and day, art and intellect. Sidereal reveries and philosophical meta-cognition alike. 


Setting aside the books for one evening

The stars shining forth – I am in their presence, are they not also in mine?

Brilliant fires in the deep

Multitudes know me by name, and I their faces, we sing

The theories here have become their dancing.

* Looking to see if there is a transcript of the poem.

* Future edit of this post will include my clip of Mix'd Ingrdnts.