Edyta Kuzian, 5th IDOCDE Symposium Proposal

– FULL NAME: Edyta Kuzian
– PHONE NUMBER: +1 (646) 717-1560
– EMAIL: ekuzian@clemson.edu
Edyta J. Kuzian is a Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow at Clemson University. She defended her dissertation, “The Body: Phenomenology and Aesthetics. The Case of Dance” at The New School for Social Research in January 2015. Her work is in embodied aesthetics and phenomenology, focusing especially on Merleau-Ponty’s account of bodily intentionality. She argues that the phenomenological account of bodily intentionality must be extended to an aesthetic model of bodily intentionality, which is intended to help us understand spontaneous movement in dance, children’s play, and gestures. She taught courses on the body in dance, phenomenology, ethics, critical thinking, human nature, modern philosophy, and death, dying, and society.
Teaching Dance Aesthetics: On Susanne Langer’s Expressive Meaning in Dance
Dance Aesthetics, Teaching Dance, Phenomenology, Embodiment, Friedrich Schiller, Susanne Langer.
In this talk on Teaching Dance Aesthetics: A Critique of Susanne Langer’s Expressive Meaning in Dance, I present and defend a paradigm for understanding what it is to appreciate expressive bodily movements in dance as artful. My main claim is that, in order to appreciate movements aesthetically, one must separate one’s judgments about them from the goals they satisfy. In order to be able to teach a philosophy course on dance and explain what is minimally required for an aesthetic attitude towards a moving body, I draw on the reading of dance suggested by Susanne Langer, which develops Friedrich Schiller’s aesthetic theory. Langer adopts Schiller’s notion of aesthetic objective features. According to her, the objective forms of beauty in dance are symbols that are abstracted forms of gestures. Hence, the expressive meaning in dance, according to Langer, depends on grasping the symbolic forms, which she calls semblance. I argue, however, that Langer is wrong to think that meaning in dance is primarily communicated through symbols. Expressive bodily movement is capable of being artful independently of the conventions of semantic rules. For Langer to make sense of dance is to be attentive to the symbols that can be understood on the linguistic model, and in my view, the bodily expression of a dancer is already meaningful without symbols.
Teaching Dance Aesthetics:
On Susanne Langer’s Expressive Meaning in Dance

(1.) Schiller’s Aesthetic Concept of Play Drive as groundwork for Langer’s notion of Virtual Powers
(a.) Schiller’s play drive as a response to Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic theory

Friedrich Schiller, in “Fifteenth Letter” and “Twentieth Letter” of his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man , considers the relationship of the ‘sensuous drive’, which stands for life, and the ‘formal drive’, which is our conceptual grasp of the world. The interplay of the two drives gives rise to the human experience of freedom, as an aesthetic category. As the kinds of beings who are continually tossed between finite and the infinite, sense and reason, we are free only as neither committed to one or another. ‘Play drive’, which keeps these contradictory drives in unison makes our experience of being free possible. The relationship of ‘sensuous drive’ and ‘formal drive’, is strikingly resembling the relationship between imagination and understanding that play a central role in Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics. In the judgment of taste, for Kant, imagination must remain pure not subordinated to understanding in order to sustain disinterestedness, to be free of the judgments of the agreeable, practical and logical purposes. Imagination and understanding, are in the relation of a free play. This mental state of the two faculties is in the state of harmony “is the only way of presenting that holds for everyone.” (§9, 217) The harmony of cognitive faculties of the imagination and understanding give rise to subjective aesthetic responses “the liking we connect with the presentation of the object we call beautiful, is based solely on the mentioned universality of the subjective conditions for judging objects.” (§9, 218). Similarly, for Schiller, the relationship of these two distinct drives, ‘sensuous drive’ and ‘formal drive’, must be elaborated in order to show how man can experience completeness and freedom, On Schiller’s account the ‘play drive’ is what puts these two drives in the kind of play that gives way to human expression and ultimately freedom. The ‘play drive’ mediates the sensuous drive (life) and formal drive (mind), which captures the abstract relations between things, and in this way as a living form stands above mere life and mind.
Man is never free as just sensuous being (although it comes earlier then the formal drive), or mindful being; play is what is required to engaged these two drives in a way as to allow for the “contemplation of the beautiful”.
(4.) Susanne Langer’s Self-expression as Semblance in Dance
In Feeling and Form, Susanne Langer takes up and transforms Schiller’s notions of the ‘sensuous drives’ to clarify beauty in dance. Her notion of ‘virtual powers’ corresponds to Schiller’s notion of play drive, which expresses human aesthetic freedom. There are two questions that I am posing to Langer in this section: (a.) How her framework is helpful for our appreciation in dance? (b.) How would Schiller respond to her use of the play of powers, as illusion, is an expression of a virtual force that belongs to living forms?
(a.) Self-expression in dance
On Langer’s account Schiller’s sensuous drive (life) is translated by hmness er as ‘vital forces’, and his notion ‘formal drive’ (mind), is the ‘logical expression’ (for example, musical notation is a logical expression. She draws on Schiller’s distinction in order to give us an account of what gets expressed in a dance. In her view, for dance to be an autonomous art, it must, like in music, have its primary illusion. What this means is that it must have a symbolic element, be a kind of logical expression, through which the vital force of a living being, as vital force, is expressed. The formation of symbolic semblance in dance is possible when it is founded on a translation of free bodily movement as belonging to living beings (vital force) into meaningful self-expressive gestures. What we get by looking at dancing bodies is an illusion of their virtual gestures which express semblance. Virtual gestures for her stand for symbols that give us an illusion in the same way as viewing paintings does.
The ‘powers’ (i.e., centers of vital force [living beings]) in dance are created being—created by the semblance of gesture.

Self-expression on a fundamental level in dance is gesture. For Langer, every bodily motion is gesture, but not all gesture is dance. On a very basic level all gestures are, to use Langer’s description, basic abstractions, and they express vital force. In order for the basic abstraction of gesture to become an artistic self-expression, it must be controlled. The way to control the artistic articulation of gestures is to transform them into symbols. In this way, a gesture can become a symbolic form. Gestures as symbolic forms are the logical expression of a work of art. There is a grammar to what our gestures mean on stage. For instance, a collapsing torso could mean submission or sorrow; an expended chest, pride, a readiness to attack, or anger. But communicating the grammar is not what makes dance art in Langer’s view. Dance is art because through combining vital forces (life) and logical expression (symbol) it can make self-expression (virtual power) possible. In this way, dance, for her, is a symbolic form that uses,
art symbols [that] express not “the world,” but the feeling of a world.

This is the primary illusion of dance, in which the play of Powers is made visible. It establishes dance as a “complete and autonomous art, the creation and organization of a realm of virtual Powers.

The communication between the dancer’s body and the spectator happens through the ‘virtual space’ by the use of symbols organized in semblance of meaningful sequence, which Langer describes as an intangible image, the primary illusion of plastic art. In dance,
[J]ust establish one line in virtual space, and at once we are in the realm of symbolic forms. The mental shift is as definite as that which we make from hearing a sound of tapping, squeaking, or buzzing to hearing speech, when suddenly in midst of the little noises surrounding us we make out a single word. The whole character of hearing is transformed.

With this analogy to sound, Langer draws a parallel to a similar experience in seeing dance, where seeing in a different way orients our dynamic entwinement within the performance space. A great piece of choreography takes place when a spectator, even without a prior knowledge of the plot, be it a myth, legend or a story, is capable of grasping the meaning of the body in movement or simply being touched by it in a meaningful way. Just as great cinematographic images need not bring any words to mind, the aesthetic experience of dance need not bring words to mind.
(b.) Semblance as an objective standard of beauty in dance
How is it possible that meaning can be carried in an embodied way? How can any materially embodied art be a symbol? Langer’s notion of semblance, which would be endorsed by Schiller, is intended to point out that there are features of the aesthetic object, in this case a dancing body, which lures us to it. Only when the work of art is independent from one’s mere “aesthetic attitude” can it be free, in Schiller’s terms, to appear as free of rules: self-determining, demanding no explanation, or explaining itself without concept.
Langer’s understanding of dance as an expression of vital force through semblance helps to sharpen my account of what is aesthetically appreciated when we watch a dancing body. On my view, appreciating the body in an aesthetic way minimally requires an aesthetic attitude of disinterestedness for seeing the movement in a non-instrumental way, and in particular, regarding motion, purposiveness without purpose for seeing movement as non-goal oriented. In my account the importance of the determination of what is beautiful in the moving body, or in dance, is already assumed by the attitude in which we are viewing the body. When the features of my experience of objects and people strike me as beautiful or ugly, I am attuned to them in an aesthetic way. It is not the form of the beautiful object, in this case a moving body, that gives us pleasure but attentiveness that is drawn to the particular movement itself.
To conclude, the characteristic feature of the four moments discussed above is that they require that our aesthetic attitude in the appreciation of the beautiful involve a distinctive non-conceptual way of relating to the world. Kant argues that our faculty of judgment enables us to feel pleasure elicited by something judged to be beautiful, which cannot be communicated by conceptual means, and as such makes aesthetic judgments distinct in kind from cognitive judgments. This suggests that the judgements that we make about the beautiful do not presuppose a purpose that the beautiful object is supposed satisfy. On my account Kant’s notion of ‘purposiveness without purpose’ allows us to grasp the purposiveness of bodily movement that is appreciated without any attribution of purpose. We appreciate the expressivity of the body in dance, which moves in a non-goal oriented way, we appreciate the performance of the movement itself and not the symbols it is successful in communicating.

– Participating requirements
Dance Educators, Philosophers working in Aesthetics, Dancers, and Choreographers.
About 40min (20min presentation and 20min Q&A)
Small classroom size, unless this is part of a panel on How to teach dance aesthetics.
A projector that can project a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation

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