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4 Being “Sita”: Physical Affects in the North Indian Dance of Kathak

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Monica Dalidowicz

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES the centrality of both kinesthetics and emotion to dance performance, and uses phenomenology to address the challenges that arise in learning the art of storytelling in the north Indian dance form of kathak. Kathak storytelling is danced, not spoken; the story is narrated through the use of gesture, facial expression, and bodily movements. The kathaka’s performance has the intended goal of the evocation of rasa, a concept from Indian aesthetic theory most often translated as mood or aesthetic enjoyment. Limitations to learning arise for both Indian diasporic dancers and foreigners in their attempt to portray abhinaya, or expression, as they struggle to depict archetypal Indian characters and evoke the culturally specific emotional experience prescribed by rasa theory. While certain aspects of rasa theory are translatable, mastery over the inconspicuous aspects of the art form, such as facial expressions or bodily orientations, are difficult to achieve for new or foreign learners. What was typically absent in dancers’ kinesthetic and emotive performances? Most strikingly, many of the basic understandings, comportments, and gestures that form the background of quotidian experience in India were missing in the bodies of neophyte dancers in California with whom I worked. Basic bodily understandings, taken for granted by dancers in Kolkata, required more explicit pedagogical attention for those in the diasporic context. Many of the emotionally imbued gestures, dynamics of movement, postures, and spatial orientations required in the stylized aesthetic of kathak can still be found within cities in India, although one must be trained to look in the right places. Learning the emotionally rich art of storytelling in kathak brought students in the diaspora up against a certain limit, a missing “body of habit” that could not easily be emulated in the aesthetic sphere.

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7 Experiencing Self-Abstraction: Studio Production and Vocal Consciousness

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Daniel Fisher

THIS CHAPTER DRAWS on fieldwork in an Aboriginal Australian urban radio station in order to explore some experiential aspects of vocal cultural production and the forms of mediatized self-abstraction it entails. I focus on the ways that technical features of media production and the institutional life of media in contemporary Indigenous Australia come together to make perception available for problematization in the studio. At 4AAA, a large, Indigenous-run country music station with a broad and at times national audience, young Indigenous media trainees take on the task of representing Aboriginal Australia to itself, and their experience of learning to perform this task provides this chapter with an ethnographic platform for considering two related lines of phenomenological questioning. First, what is the experience of becoming a medium of such collective and recursive self-abstraction? That is, what is at stake for young Aboriginal people who take on the mantle of Indigenous representation? And second, what is the relationship between media activism and processes of everyday social reification and reflexivity in a domain in which claims to Indigeneity are at once historically diverse and frequently contested? How might this relationship entail a kind of phenomenological bracketing of perception and expression for media producers themselves?

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2 Toward a Cultural Phenomenology of Body-World Relations

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Thomas J. Csordas

FOR YEARS IN my seminar on embodiment I have begun by juxtaposing the work of Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu, and Foucault, based on the intuition that the work of these three thinkers taken together established the intellectual topology of embodiment as an “indeterminate methodological field defined by perceptual experience and mode of presence and engagement in the world” (Csordas 1994: 12). Writing against the grain of the occasional antipathy toward phenomenology articulated by both Bourdieu and Foucault, I suggest that taken together their work helps to outline the structure of this methodological field for cultural phenomenology by defining complementary aspects of the relation of our bodies to the world, specifically with respect to how they deal with the issue of agency (Csordas 2011). In brief, my argument is that the operative locus of agency is for Merleau-Ponty at the level of existence, for Bourdieu at the level of the habitus, and for Foucault at the level of power relations. The modality in which agency is exercised is for Merleau-Ponty intention, for Bourdieu practice, and for Foucault discourse. The vector of agency (for it has a directionality) is for Merleau-Ponty from our bodies to the world in the sense of projecting into and orienting to the world. For Bourdieu the vector is a double one, pointing in opposite and reciprocal directions between our bodies and the world that we inhabit and that inhabits us. For Foucault the vector is from the world toward our bodies in the sense of inscribing itself upon or incorporating itself into us (Figure 2.1). My interest is not to rehearse these well known concepts from each of the thinkers or to examine how these concepts are developed by each theorist, but to place them in relation to one another in order within a matrix that defines a methodological field.

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11 Senses of Magic: Anthropology, Art, and Christianity in the Vula’a Lifeworld

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Deborah Van Heekeren

Rather than apply to his work dichotomies more appropriate to those who sustain traditions than to those men, philosophers or painters, who initiate these traditions, [Cézanne] preferred to search for the true meaning of painting, which is continually to question tradition.

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense

It is time to appreciate ethnographers who produce works of art that become powerful vehicles of theoretical exposition.

—Paul Stoller, The Taste of Ethnographic Things

I HAVE LONG ADMIRED Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writing on Paul Cézanne because it provides insight into the artist’s practice beyond the general conventions of art history. The philosopher saw the painter as a paradigm example of the essence of perception.1 As he writes, “Cézanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, between order and chaos. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear; he wanted to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization” (Merleau-Ponty 1964 [1945]: 13).

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5 Beneath the Horizon: The Organic Body’s Role in Athletic Experience

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Greg Downey

CONDUCTING ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH on sports, one encounters individuals who almost seem to transcend the boundaries of human capacity. Arguably, one of the thrills of athletic spectatorship is to witness skills and physical abilities honed to such an exceptional degree that an athlete’s performance beggars normal imagination, at once humbling us and at the same time thrilling. For an anthropological discussion of phenomenology, these kinds of people—agents operating at a level of efficacy beyond what is normally possible—offer an opportunity to interrogate the variation of human experience.

Specifically, I conducted ethnographic research on and apprenticed in capoeira, an acrobatic Afro-Brazilian martial art and dance, from 1992 on and off until 2005 (see especially Downey 2005). During this time, I was privileged to meet, interview, and even apprentice with a number of extraordinary practitioners, some of them legendary teachers and players in the globalized capoeira community. In particular, during fieldwork in Salvador, Brazil, from 1993 to 1995, I trained frequently under the watchful guidance of Valmir Damasceno, a charismatic contra-mestre, or drill leader, at the time with the Pelourinho Capoeira Angola Group. Valmir has since become widely recognized as a mestre, or “teacher,” the most prestigious title that can be attributed to a capoeira practitioner.

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