Performance and Philosophy Working Group, PSi
July 4-8, 2014, at the Shanghai Theatre Academy in Shanghai
Call for Papers
Performing Philosophies of Effort/Gongfu
The Chinese term 功夫 (gongfu) translates variously into English as “effort,” “labor,” “work,” “achievement,” and even, more poetically, as “an effort achieved through time and practice.” In Chinese, the term 工夫茶 (gongfu cha) means “making tea with effort” and describes a disciplined and stylized tea ceremony dating back to the fourteenth century. More familiar perhaps is the phrase kung fu, derivative of gongfu, which has migrated into Romance and Germanic languages where it connotes a wide range of martial arts. The tea ceremony and the fighting technique, each forms of social and artistic practice, express culturally-specific outlooks on life and have received philosophical elaboration in the writings of Zen and Taoist practitioners.
For the PSi meeting in Shanghai next summer, the PPWG requests proposals for papers and a praxis session that will work with and through the philosophical dimensions of 功夫. As you prepare your abstracts, please consider the following questions:
• How might a philosophical expression of 功夫 interact with the conference theme of “Avant-Garde, Tradition, Community”? (Please refer to the various subtopics articulated in the Conference CFP)
• What contemporary or historical performance practices demonstrate a philosophy of effort that comingles, either explicitly or implicitly, with 功夫?
• Working within the Chinese and/or Asian environments more broadly, how might a philosophy of 功夫 further the current research underway in the field of Performance Philosophy?
• Conscious of the tendency for Western philosophers and artists to appropriate Eastern ideas (John Cage, Bertolt Brecht, to name two obvious examples), what methodological approaches might best negotiate the pitfalls of, at worst, Orientalism and, at best, the act that James Clifford calls “poetics of displacement”?
• How does a philosophical treatment of 功夫 intersect with, question, or productively challenge the theory of “social performance studies” recently outlined in TDR by Faye C. Fei and William H. Sun? More specifically, how might your paper deal with the following statement: “What was badly needed [in China] was social performance studies, a new research field focusing mainly on the performances of urban professionals such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, sales-people, and government officials. […] In a sense, one of the missions of social performance studies is to study and develop appropriate norms and standards of performance in and across all professions.”
To meet the November 20 conference deadline for proposals, all abstracts must be emailed to Will Daddario (moc.liamg|oiraddad.w#moc.liamg|oiraddad.w) by November 5. For paper presentations on a PPWG-curated panel, please submit a 250-word abstract that also includes your name and institutional affiliation (if applicable). For praxis sessions, which would explore philosophy through performance or a workshop, please send a 250-word abstract and indicate space, equipment and time requirements; estimated number of participants; and name(s) and affiliation(s) of the proposer(s).
Once I have selected papers to populate the panels and presenters for the praxis session, I will formally submit our application to the conference organizers. Acceptance to PPWG sessions, then, does not necessarily imply acceptance to the conference (though, historically, we’ve had great success with our applications.)
Presenter: Mi You (Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany), moc.liamg|imussim#moc.liamg|imussim
Paper Title: Gongfu at Work and of Life
In this paper I link Gongfu/effort/work in a physicist understanding to that of life. To do so, I will detour to the discussion of energy, both in the sense of that which does “work” in physics (Howard Caygill, etc.), and in the sense of a vital life force, found both in Chinese metaphysics (in the common narrative of Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism, working mostly with text of philosopher Fang Dongmei) and the western vitalist school of thinkers (Spinoza, Whitehead, Deleuze and Guattari, among others). Under this framework, I will compare work to the end of efficiency and work/effort in excess of itself in order to introduce a new paradigm of creativity and joy. This also leads to the discussion of the body, from a mechanical physical concatenation to a flowing, porous (José Gil, etc.) state of being.
On the practical level, I will analyze works of theater director Danny Yung with Peking opera performers that demonstrate an approach to modern reconstruction of traditional Peking opera. I will examine how the “Gongfu” (in this case “degree of training”) of a traditional performer, as rigid as it is, when prompted by contemporary inquiries, generates new knowledge of the body, and thus closes up the gap between Gongfu/work in the physicist sense and the life sense. In this way I connect the questions posed by PSi and Performance Philosophy.
Presenter: Ioana Jucan (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island), ude.nworb|nacuJ_anaoI#ude.nworb|nacuJ_anaoI
Paper Title: Gongfu and the Philosophical Practice of Rigor
This paper stages a conceptual encounter between the Chinese notion of gongfu (功夫) and the European and Anglo-American ideal and practice of rigor in philosophy.
In a 2012 post on The Philosopher’s Cocoon, Marcus Arvan suggests that “great Philosophy should, at least ideally, have two aspects:
1. Great Ideas
2. Rigorous Arguments”
Arvan claims that the second aspect has been over-emphasized in contemporary philosophy, with detrimental consequences: rigor stifles revolutionary thought. Arvan’s use of “rigor” carries some of the connotations often associated with the term: inflexibility, rigidity, extreme strictness in the application of rules and principles.
I am interested in whether the conceptual encounter I stage in this paper can open the way for another conceptualization of rigor as philosophical practice – a practice that, I argue, is crucial to performance philosophy as a new field of investigation. At its intersection with gongfu, rigor can potentially be understood in terms of a practice of effort, attention, and care – a practice of pushing thought to the extreme, to the point where it becomes material. In this sense, the practice of rigor potentially instantiates what Deleuze and Guattari regarded as a distinctive condition of art and what I see as a distinctive condition of performance as a mode of philosophizing: the capacity of the work to “stand up on its own.”
Presenter: Michelle Lewis-King (Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, England, United Kingdom), moc.liamg|lautrivegrev#moc.liamg|lautrivegrev
Paper Title: Pulse Project: a performance study at the intersections between art, science, east, west, self and other
(Please note: this paper would complement a praxis session derived from the same material. I, Will Daddario, have attached the praxis proposal separately)
This presentation explores Pulse Project, a performance series researching the relational interfaces between art, medicine, East, West, modern and premodern. This study uses pulse reading, graphic notation and algorithmic compositions to instrumentalise the relationship between performer and participants. Instead of appropriating Asian philosophical traditions as an “outsider,” Pulse Project avoids Orientalism by engaging with the notion of gongfu through years of practical experience of utilising Chinese medicine as a performative clinical intervention within the contexts of western biomedical praxis.
Drawing upon my experience as a clinical acupuncturist (with training in biomedicine), this study uses informed touch together with SuperCollider (an audio synthesis programming language) to compose spoken algorithmic soundscapes expressive of the interior aspects of an individual’s being and existing between Asian and Western notions of embodiment. Each participant’s pulse is interpreted as a unique set of sound-wave images based on traditional