Always More than One | Itineration

Joseph Grobelny reviews

Always More Than One: Individuation's Dance
Author(s) or Editors: Erin Manning
Publisher: Duke University Press
Paperback Cost $24.95(U.S.)

In his prelude to Erin Manning’s Always More Than One, Brian Massumi points out that Manning’s process-oriented philosophical writing, in which “determinate concepts crests into their precision like a wave on a sea of thought” (xiv), is an apt description for the horizontal feeling the reader gets when wading into the text. The impression that events (or in this case, key concepts) recur with regular frequency in slightly different forms is not simply Manning’s point: it is her method. Massumi urges the reader to be fully sympathetic to this. Her process/writing requires not only new concepts, but aims to create new kinds of concepts. Manning, in her search for a philosophy of individuation, seems to be aiming not for the transcendental but the ineffable. In her own words, “writing is a kind of counterpoint, [it] is a folding trough of points of inflection . . . a machine for creating intensive folds of movement continuously moving-through but ultimately escaping position” (102-103). The idea that a philosopher ought to write to escape position seems counterintuitive, but the constant folding, like the wave-crest, is another image and method Manning uses to explore the edges where her thinking lies. As a reader, one can skim the index to see the even distribution of her exploration, and likewise one can also read and reread from any point in the text and still see the outlines of thought she follows. For a book reviewer, this is a more vexing quality. But, Massumi and Manning say: “If this is life, then once more!” (via Nietzsche, xxiii, 45, 148, 187). This review is just one path, one reading-as-event.

The first chapter starts with babies, and Manning poses the question of whether relation ought to be the center of development, as opposed to the creation of a sense of self through the creation of a boundary by way of the skin (2), a vessel that many consider to be the ultimate limit of self. Relation is the refrain that Manning uses to establish her ethics: “an ethics of relation has concern or the event in its emergence, refuting knower/known hierarchies, preferring instead a horizontalizing milieu of experience where what emerges conditions the stakes of its coming-to-be” (171). Many of the artworks and events that Manning explores focus explicitly on relation, specifically on those that dwell on the individuation that occurs in an event. This especially the case in the dance and dance-related work of William Forsythe, which explores the architectural qualities of choreography, including works that look more like “interactive” sculptural art as opposed to dance per se. Manning’s own work follows a similar vein, and they also make up many of the more successful parts of the book.

Much of Manning’s book is dedicated to the pre-event: the milieu, the techniques, the potential of bodies and of life. When she delves into Ferdinand Deligny’s work mapping the commons created by autistic children and farmers, she focuses on the choreographic operations that “open the spacetime of experience to the richness of its vitality forms, allowing the felt intensity of its shaping to stretch duration, as it seems to do for autistics” (193). This is just one instance where choreography is a way to help create an ethics of relation, but also where it can create a space and time where all of the pre-event can be felt in a movement, such that a dancing body “learns to stretch out the force of duration, to express incipience, making palpable the force of form that is movement’s procedural intensity” (39). Dance is not just an art form to be explored; it is another method to produce the space-time of all things “pre-” needed to understand the forces at play in Manning’s relational ethics. More so than any art form, Dance provides Manning with a vocabulary to examine the way any event unfolds, the way circumstances inform the specific way something will happen. The most concrete example is all of the preparation a dancer will undergo just to perform a specific bodily movement: years of training, rehearsals, and education are brought to that exact moment. In addition, other dancers, the choreographer, and the audience all make every repetition different despite apparent sameness. Such attention to detail informs the specificity of Manning’s relational ethics.

If dance and autism are a couple of the techniques Manning utilizes, then choreography is the method underpinning them. It is “a proposition to the event. It asks the event how its ecology might best generate and organize the force of movement-moving” (76), which is to say that choreography is ideally situated to work in the areas of pre-event: in Deligny’s work with autistics, in Manning’s art works, and especially in the dance and dance-related work of William Forsythe. In all of these cases, Manning is able to tease out material towards her relational ethics, so much so that as one becomes enmeshed in it, the self, like the baby who is not aware of its skin-as-boundary, gets lost. At one point, she claims that when you are part of a collective individuation, “(n)o longer as concerned with your ‘self,’ you are now experiencing the potential of the future mixed with the resonance of the past: a futurity of pastness in the present: Event-time” (95). It is this particular formulation, along with a serious concern with Deleuze's “a life” (“a force of becoming that accompanies all processes, all phases”) which functions very well in the above-mentioned examples, and in her chapters on writing and art by autistic artists (19). However, such a beyond-human concern with a life reads poorly in a chapter concerning director Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir.

Broadly, Waltz with Bashir is an Israeli film that deals with Folman’s involvement as a soldier during the Sabra and Shatila Massacre (1982), in which a Lebanese militia slaughtered Palestinian refugees under the watch of Israeli forces. Folman finds a gap in this episode of his life: making Waltz with Bashir a film about forgetting and memory. Manning uses the film to illustrate the Deleuzian point that “(f)orgetting is how memory expresses itself in the event of the now . . . forgetting as the dark precursor of memory in the making, memory risks falling into transcendence, into the infinitely regressive search for meaning” (57), and that such transcendence leaves one prone to microfascism, which will “stop thought” (53) and leave one open to “a tending-toward fascism in the name of the universal figure of the human” (64). All of these are noteworthy and noble sentiments, which meet Manning’s call to “be responsible before is to engage at the nonhuman limit of the barely active where a life is restlessly agitating” (72). She shows how Waltz with Bashir works with many of those concepts, and in an endnote addresses Naira Antoun’s critique of violence that the film perpetuates by excluding Palestinian bodies. Manning fully acknowledges the critique, but considers it to be shortsighted for relying on identity politics (234), which are part of those liberal responsibilities for another, as opposed to the responsibility before which deals with the Deleuzian a life—“political potential as an infra-individuating force for a diagrammatic praxis of life-living—at the cusp of individuation where the preindividual is active in all its intensity” (147). To say that the difficult-to-grasp politics of a life is superior to a bare recognition of the human in another comes off as over-ambitious in the face of the astounding horror of those events.

The chapter on Waltz with Bashir comes in the middle of the book. Throughout the rest, Manning presents a strong case for the politics of a life, grounded in autistic perception, which, by having empathy for the human and nonhuman and by not making the language-based neurotypical world the standard for ethics, provides a perspective for attentiveness to the a life, to the milieu that choreography operates in, to “a focus that emphasizes hyperrelationality and dynamic expression in a worlding that is co-constitutive” (153). In her own view, the shortcoming and the challenge of using autistic perception to open up all of the pre-ness of life that addresses the preindividual in a dance of attention is that this mode of perception is difficult where the neurotypical individual’s ability to “chunk” the world into pre-digested bits accelerates life to a point where choreography’s ability to provide space for a dance of attention seems to only exist in the world of art. In using a process-oriented philosophy of individuation, Manning has succeeded in creating a text that utilizes the methods she proposes to create a compelling illustration of how autistic perception can rework the ethics of relation. As opposed to the consistent arc of logical argument, Manning’s book is a sea. Each wave crest of an idea looks like every other, but each is unique in its place and context in the book. While the neurotypical approach appreciates the focus of a principled argument, autistic perception allows an easier understanding in a horizontal sea of concepts.

About the Author(s):

Joe Grobelny is a reference and instruction librarian with five years of undergraduate and graduate instruction experience who focuses on collaborative, critical information literacy on the desk and in the classroom. His research interests include the impact of technology on undergraduate learning, the relationship between the digital humanities and the new aesthetic, and the intersections of culture and commerce. He holds a BA in History from the University of Colorado at Boulder, an MLIS from the University of Denver, and half of a music degree. Joe has also studied born digital archival materials at UVA’s Rare Book School. Specifically, he works in the humanist tradition to fully engage the 21st century predicament of librarianship using the parallax gap between academia and popular culture.