I've just discovered Performance Research Journal vol 20.6: An/Notations*. Eleanor Margolies' article Going to hear a dance addresses practices of audio-describing dance performance for blind and partially-sighted audience members - practices which, she points out, share many of the challenges of poetry translation.
The challenge of describing performance to an audience without visual perception can be met by emphasizing the tactile and kinaesthetic experience of the event—even by introducing the audience to some of the dance's key movements as part of a touch-tour of the stage in advance of the performance. Indeed this is quite appropriate to the performers' own experiences of their work, as "a dancer's training involves giving up an absolute reliance on sight, in order to develop a strong proprioceptive sense"—a strong physical sense of where their limbs are in space without having to see them. She quotes Georgina Kleege, a researcher who trained in dance and now explores blindness in relation to art: a dancer "develops eyes in the back of her head, on the soles of her feet". This is a particular kind of sight, more embodied, more haptic than ocular, so that the eye becomes a metaphor for the instrument of an expanded conception of sight.
This image brings me towards another image which I've often returned to: the hand that gropes through the dark to write without sight in Derrida's Memoirs of the Blind. He writes:
"What happens when one writes without seeing? A hand of the blind ventures forth alone or disconnected, in a poorly delimited space; it feels its way, it gropes, it caresses as much as it inscribes, trusting in the memory of signs and supplementing sight. It is as if a lidless eye had opened at the tip of the fingers, as if one eye too many had just grown right next to the nail, a single eye, the eye of a cyclops or a one-eyed man. This eye guides the tracing or outline; it is a miner's lamp at the point of writing, a curious and vigilant substitute, the prosthesis of a seer who is himself invisible." (p. 3)
If the single lidless eye is the tip of the writing instrument, then it gropes its way by means of its contact with the page. As it makes contact with the page it leaves marks—it writes—and this continuity of contact serves also to gropingly navigate the page. The instrument carries out two parallel navigations in the same movement: it navigates the space of the page and navigates the letter forms that settle onto the page. This brings to mind the essay by Kleist that I referred to yesterday—in light of today's reading I might think of Kleist's orations as a voice pitched in time, navigating a discourse even as it navigates how that discourse might occupy the space around it; the space around it being time rather than the topology of the page. (I think of Glynn Maxwell and his analysis of the white and the black of the page: poets are voices upon time.)
And it happens that Derrida makes a similar leap in his essay, going on to connect the pen's contact with the space of the page with the voice's contact with time, if I can put it like that. He writes:
"One must always remember that the word, the vocable, is heard and understood, the sonorous phenomenon remaining invisible as such. Taking up time rather than space in us, it is addressed from the blind to the blind, like a code for the nonseeing, but speaks to us, in truth, all the time of the blindness that constitutes it. Language is spoken, it speaks to itself, which is to say, from/of blindness. It always speaks to us from/of the blindness that constitutes it. But when, in addition, I write without seeing, during those exceptional experiences I just mentioned, in the night or with my eyes glued elsewhere, a schema already comes to life in my memory. At once virtual, potential, and dynamic, this graphic crosses all the borders separating the senses, its being-in-potential at once visual and auditory, motile and tactile. Later, its form will come to light like a developed photograph. But for now, at this very moment when I write, I see literally nothing of these letters." (p. 4)
These voices upon time, these words spoken into blind air, this situated-ness in time: it brings me back to Margolies' article on audio-description, and a suggestion she borrows from audio describer Louise Fryer that describers should consider the negative space around the dancers, to borrow in turn a phrase from the life-drawing studio. Fryer asks:
"What effect do the dancers have on the space? How do they disturb the air? Do they pierce it? Probe it? Explore it? Disperse it? Enfold it? Shatter it? This approach may help your listeners embody the movement for themselves. A person who has been blind since birth might respond less to a description of what a move 'looks' like, while being highly attuned to a description of what it 'feels' like as a body moves through space." (p. 7)
[*see foot of BLOG page for bibliography]
"Later, its form will come to light like a developed photograph."
Glynn Maxwell on the white and the black of the page: "poets are voices upon time"
Navigation, or wayfaring? Tim Ingold on lines. Michael Taussig on drawings. Emma Cocker on drawing: "the art of the helmsman can only be exercised within the framework of uncertainty and instability of the sea. The play of the tiller cannot be dissociated from the movement of waves."
Does dance notation reflect the ways the dancers' movements shatter or pierce or unfold the air? Is the white of the page around the notational figures equivalent to the air around the dancers? Does this lie the dancers flat against the surface of the air?
And what about sign language notation? Where hand-shapes are translated into standardized figures on the page, in a BSL dictionary, say, do these figures interact with the paper as the handshapes interact with the air? What about time, what about three-dimensional space: these are figured also, in standardized figures on the page.
The helmsman. His path / his movements
will come to light like a developed photograph.