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Can Your Jellyfish Sing?: “Tentacular” Moves From Individual Embodiment to the Planetary

Róisín O’Gorman

University College Cork

Humanity is literally, metaphorically, and categorically in motion as never before, and yet, the epistemologies of movement are little understood; movement is seen as a means to an end rather than a fundamental organizing mechanism of perception and understanding. Even if we don’t acknowledge movement in this way, it is still shaping our thoughts, actions, worldviews, and structures. However, what happens if we pay attention to the constancy of movement, from body systems to the tidal currents, from individual gestures to mass movements and migrations? How might this approach shape new methodologies for engaging complex, shifting problems? Can we begin at the human scale to delve beyond our human limits and understand how we perceive and think through movement? How can the arts, and, in particular, epistemologies from movement-based practices expand our perceptual terrain so that the individual experience can reimagine the micro and macro worlds it hosts and inhabits?

Fig. 1: Swinging on the planet of the possible

Understanding movement through the direct experiences of the human body, such as it is, offers ways to engage, challenge, and face our contemporary moment where the larger movements of social, political, and planetary crises urgently need new thinking to resolve, but which overwhelm the scale of the human.[1] In the overflow of this contemporary time, this essay proceeds from these questions, layering elements together from theoretical frames and practical explorations, not to offer any definitive solution, but instead allowing us to think through movement both epistemologically and experientially, to acknowledge the potency of our movement repertories. This essay is part of a larger project aimed at integrating embodied engagement though movement practices born out of theatre, dance, and performance studies and somatic practices with scholarship in the areas of new materialism and ecofeminism in particular as fields that tackle the conceptual frameworks of the current planetary crises. In this way, the project aims to find what philosopher Timothy Morton has called “wiggle room” (“Stuff Can Happen”), that is, a space and method for manoeuvring and reimagining existences in the face of individual, social, political, and planetary crisis or even annihilation. While that wiggling is a reminder of the tightness of survival (for some more than others), it also draws us into the realm of low theory, towards the spongy life celebrated by Halberstam, the creaturely wriggling life,[2] and to a certain playfulness. The practices of joy that play and performance, or making and moving, offer operate as epistemologies of survival and ongoingness.

Interlude: A Moving Story, 1633

As the story goes, when astronomer Galileo Galilei recanted his position on the movements of the Earth as heresies against Catholic Church doctrine, he is said to have uttered,  “‘Eppur si muove’ — ‘And yet, it moves’” (Hawking 393). The dramatic tension hangs on the fact that, as audience, we know Galileo was right in spite of his powerlessness to actually speak truth to the power of his time, as the Catholic Inquisition forced a recanting of his science, and Galileo was condemned in 1633. The story gives him a heroic moment, a recuperative or performative speech act that redeems him, forgives his heresy of capitulation, making him an appealing figure as a visionary scientist suffering to verify a new reality beyond the dictates of dogma. The story appeals to scientists and artists alike (from Hawking to Brecht). It is not likely that the astronomer could have uttered such a protest and survived; and he chose survival and ongoingness (such as it was).

There is a problem in offering a story that contributes to the mythos of the lone (male) genius visionary, an icon of human exceptionalism, set apart from the world. Many feminist critics have decried such formulations. For example, Donna Haraway asks: “What happens when human exceptionalism and bounded individualism, those old saws of Western philosophy and political economics, become unthinkable in the best sciences, whether natural or social?” (Eflux). Haraway reminds us that we need collaborative, relational “kinships” to develop sustainable projects beyond the end of the world. Galileo is a figure from a once-upon-a-time of technologies that ended one version of the world. Remember, then, that a story is also a technology, a tool to see things in a particular way, to see beyond ourselves. The character of Galileo operates as a cipher, a story, a fabulation on the kinds of ways knowledges are formed and collectively remembered; the figure of the astronomer is an accumulation of the many iterations of his image and work as well as the material practices of his astronomy, where he made his own telescopes, peered late into the night, making calculations and miscalculations. It is a story that reminds us how perceptions of movement revolve around positions of power and knowledge, that reminds us how difficult it is to see movement without stilling it; it also obviates that how we see movement patterns determines worldviews and, in turn, how we organize our worlds and how shifts in scale and technologies structure power relations. The embodying of the tensions of perception and power within the figure of one body both obviates and obfuscates the clashes of faith: science and its technologies on one side and dogma and its performative techniques as each manoeuvre for authority. We see the machinations of power; and yet, the affective force that Brecht in fact tried to remove from his dramas still draws us into the intensity of this scene.

The famous phrase “still it moves” (or, “and yet, it moves”), focuses attention on the perception of movement, that while something can appear still, it can still be moving. We can ignore or deny our spinning world and yet, it moves. The perception of movement leads us to the movement in perception. How can we attend to movement as a central sensory apparatus as well as one a motoring one? How might that help us understand our social and political relations? Philosophers have drawn attention to movement as a fundamentally reorganizing phenomena. Massumi, for example, opens up questions of the felt sensation of a moving body being key to understanding bodies and their affects. A body, he notes, “moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving. Can we think a body without this: an intrinsic connection between movement and sensation whereby each immediately summons the other?” (1).  Performing arts becomes a site of expressing and examining this moving phenomenon where “positionality” is no longer a useful critique unless considered as how positions move (2). This argument for the “intensity” of movement is also explored by Erin Manning where the “relationscapes” between thought or concept and movement is explored across arts and media. While human perception is surpassed by the scales and technologies of the planetary and the microscopic, a focus on movement, embodiment, and positionality allows for a perceptual and expressive register where the Human is not disappeared in the conflagration of the Anthropocene, but can find a way to participate in ongoing ways in developing sustainable futures.

Tentacular Entanglements

This essay, then, entangles terrains and registers from critical environmental discourse and somatic training to provoke experiential thinking that asks us to trace the lineages, legacies, and the limits between bodies living on this damaged planet.  Layering these disparate registers responds to Donna Haraway’s recent critical work, which swims upstream against the currents of the Anthropocene and within the troubling of figurations of the posthuman. Furthering her conceptual weaving, which explores the social materialist feminisms of the emergent Cyborg through animal co-species companionship, Haraway now entwines a collective yet particular array of “tentacled ones” in her most recent manifesto, Staying with the Trouble (2016). Once again, she provokes us to think beyond human exceptionalism through the figures she constitutes as the Chthulucene, a collective of generative entanglements of spidery ones, earthly terrors and mythological fabulations that encompass a broader spectrum and different dramaturgy to the tragic, apocalyptic Anthropos. She reminds us: “tentacle comes from the Latin tentaculum, meaning “feeler,” and tentare, meaning “to feel” and “to try”; and I know that my leggy spider has many-armed allies. Myriad tentacles will be needed to tell the story of the Chthulucene.” (31) She finds allies across social-materialist feminist and ecologically-engaged new materialist work exhorting us to rethink our assumptions around the Human in light of our ability to do such spectacular damage to our host planet and co-inhabitants.

This essaithen is also an attempt, a try, a feeling towards other links and motilities that the tentacular offers our thinking embodiment. It attends to the weave of the tactile intelligence and movement inherent in the practices of the tentacular. Along with Haraway’s tentacled ones then I weave in a somatic practice that attends to the direct experience of one’s own living anatomy. The deep personal and individual investigation that somatics allows could set one adrift on a solo mission inwards.[3] However, my gesture here intends to draw this internal deep dive into a sense of shared yet particular anatomy, collectivity, and evolutionary history to create a space where the individual sensibility of one’s own body, breath, and voice could connect us to the larger concerns around the politics and sense of urgency in responding to climate change, while also attuning to the rising toxicity of political atmospheres. I seek, then, to draw “high theory” into the internal low places so there is potential for shifts in register and point of view.[4] I focus in on one of Haraway’s tentacled ones, not the celebrated cephalopods hailed for their “alien intelligence,” (as per Peter Godfrey-Smith 2016) but the barely there, 95% water creatures that hail us in their swarming blooms. The jellyfish becomes a figure with which to begin an exploration, a movement repertoire, to ask ourselves what swarms within, what allows a reimagining and embodiment of one’s own body, dissolving not only habitual movement limits (a typical aim of somatic practices) but to also look at how it might open new expressive and cognitive thoughtways.[5]

Taking the figuration of the jellyfish[6] along this thoughtway in its tantalizing, pulsating dance, floating across visual, kinesthetic, and tactile terrains, also allows it to sink into our imaginary and further into explorations of our embodied anatomy. That is, in response to Haraway’s cri de coeur,in this urgent, contemporary moment I weave in the somatic practice of Body-Mind Centering (BMC®) and the work of its founder, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.[7] Her work offers a detailed living anatomical experiencing of one’s own body. The applications are myriad across therapies, creative practice, and here as a provocation towards embodied thinking. This practice offers a material embodiment whereby we might think and experience ourselves inside and alongside the multiple others across kinships and hordes that the posthuman or the Chthulucene would evoke or invite. This “speculative fabulation”[8] locates the tentacular in a literal sense within the human body. In a number of workshops in 2017, I led participants in an exploration through movement and voice. We began with a literal layering, an evocation of the anatomical structures that offered us a jellyfish to play with internally, and so we came to work with diaphragms and the pulsing possibilities of breath, voice, and song. In this way, the diaphragms offered a starting point to breathe with the tentacular, both conceptually and practically.

Interlude: Dive In

Take a moment to watch this short clip: “The Thoracic and Pelvic Diaphragms with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.”

Bainbridge Cohen instructs us to play with the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms, to feel and inhabit these particular structures.[9] As you read this, you are supported by the movement of those fleshy structures. If you play, attune, and embody those structures, if you attend to the breath dancing in and out, what might happen? What persuades us to attend to the often background role of breathing? Why might we resist a deep dive inwards, towards our anatomical particularities and the launching of awareness into the air around us? Is it possible to feel a pulsation, a kinship that both draws us in and repulses? In the suspension between breaths, possibilities hang and then release and might even bloom. Might a song bubble to the surface? Do you feel like singing? Even in these dark times?[10]

Can a Jellyfish Sing?

The title of the essay echoes Spivak’s famous question: “Can the subaltern speak?” The interconnecting terrains of postcolonialism, new materialism, posthumanism, and animal studies variously grapple with the ongoing ripple and political implications of that question. It asks us to attend to categories, particularities, and hegemonies in representational and political frameworks. It is troubling to equate the subaqueous jellies with the subaltern, but there is also a tentacular undulation, an uneasy tingle of recognition. To stay with that trouble is not to see a simple equation or metaphor, then, but to think through the impulses of power, consumption, and authority that both the subaqueous and the subaltern disturb. The relational weave between human and other attempts to change the dynamics of the hierarchies of who counts and who doesn’t, who is heard, who gets to speak, and for who. If we palpate the relational co-dependence between individuals, collectives, and their ecologies, might we shift from projects of dominion driven by competitive problem solving to the ecologies of care and attunement that climate change requires if it is to be mitigated? Jellies being mostly water (around 95%) are easy to forget or overlook. They might not, at first, seem redeemable within a capitalist or even scientific economy; and yet, their compelling movement has been monetized in large-scale aquariums.[11] Furthermore, as they bloom in new levels in rising ocean temperatures, occasionally devouring fish stocks, or clogging industrial piping, or closing beaches, they are castigated as monstrous even as their capture and cultivation for consumption continues to grow. Jellies are now getting our attention in unprecedented ways (see Hamilton 2016, O’Sullivan 2016, Tucker 2010, and Hayward 2012).

We cannot hear a jellyfish singing, but maybe we can still listen. We cannot assume anything about their would-be voice or song. As Spivak reminds us: “No one can say ‘I am a subaltern’ in whatever language” (476). However, can we float a connection? Can we drift into the other tentacular structures of our anatomy and evolutionary kin? (Think brain and spinal cord, heart and vascular system, what of the tongue and tail?)[12] Something must quieten down so we feel the resonances. What the practice of BMC® reminds us is that each body is particular and different, even as we share similar structures, much as the jellyfish that might sting you is a particular one, which matters (especially if, for example, it is a box jellyfish).

Interlude: Drawings by K., aged 6

Fig. 2 Box jellyfish: Really poisonous
Fig. 3 Fried Egg jellyfish: Eats other jellies. Every jellyfish has a sting.

My son, an avid fan of David Attenborough, draws me examples; just to be clear, his attention to their forms and particularity inform my sense of jellyfishness.

Take a Deep Breath: What Happens Next?

While we can playfully overlay the possibilities of the tentacular within the human body, there is an obvious limit to how much we can playfully and curiously follow the “tentacles” within the human body and draw in a jellyfish imaginary. The jelly is other, the long hair of the Medusa can sting us, paralyze us, some can even kill us, swarm, surprise, and clog our industrial, touristic, and food systems. However, if we sing with our internal tentacles, can we feel our way towards a different relational horizon? If you linger with this brief provocation and possibility of how the human diaphragm and jellyfish movement overlap, entangle, sting, or sing, can it help us link the individual breath, voice, and body into the swarm of possibilities that living on our damaged planet requires? Can it pulse us towards thinking about sustainable futures and climate change on a planetary scale through individual embodied experience, through entanglement with creaturely life? As the atmosphere shifts, literally and politically, towards ever more destructive levels of toxicity, practices of joy might help us on our way, or might just keep pushing the promise of doing right further out of reach. Both Haraway and Bainbridge Cohen tell us, the weave is in our hands; we all get to play with this, so go on, take a deep breath, dive in. What is your song?

Interlude: Practices of Joy: Can Your Jellyfish Sing?

Can Your Jellyfish Sing?

Knowing as Moving

Movement draws attention to the “way” of knowing, so that knowledge itself is understood as mobile and ongoing, not simply an object to be downloaded, but one to be lived, experienced and experimented with, to make new ideas, new structures, new pathways. Tim Ingold articulates this idea as follows gleaned from his early fieldwork as an anthropologist in the northeastern Finland region with the Saami people. He begins to understand the fundamental role of movement as learning and knowledge:

It is, in short, by watching, listening and feeling — by paying attention to what the world has to tell us — that we learn. My companions did not inform me of what is there, to save me the trouble of having to inquire for myself. Rather, they told me how I might find out. They taught me what to look for, how to track things, and that knowing is a process of active following, of going along. These were people who had always lived by fishing, hunting and herding reindeer, so for them the idea that you know as you go — not that you know by means of movement but that knowing is movement — was second nature. (Ingold 1, emphasis mine)

This second nature is too often forgotten, overlooked, as what Ingold is also describing here is the calibration between a body and its world, between the sensory-motoring loops required for survival driven by an attunement with need and circumstances. This is not just about hunting, but about arts practices, training and creative making and thinking. How do we know as we go?

Contrary to conventional modes of knowledge formation, where the world offers fixed objects of enquiry against which appropriate theories are tested, developed, or applied, resulting in seemingly stable knowledge products, movement fundamentally makes us question traditional modes of meaning making. Movement reorders what we know and how we know it. Movement is so fundamental to our ontology that we hardly perceive it, yet without movement there is no perception. As Bainbridge Cohen states, “Words remain always an outside viewpoint when describing experience. I do not mean to underestimate the importance of the other senses of taste, smell, hearing, and vision. They are essential and wonderful! I only wish to awaken people — society — to the key role that movement and touch play in the dynamic development of the experience of perception itself, regardless of the particular sense organ being stimulated” (118). It is simple: no movement, no perception, and yet too often we don’t think of movement as one of our sensory abilities; we focus instead on how we move and where we want to go. Based on the work of pioneers in somatics and performing arts practices, the ability to sense movement is being further brought to the attention of researchers and scholars, although movement-based thinking still requires much scholarly and research attention.[13]

Nuanced and particular practices of attending to movement are at the core of theatre, dance, and performance studies. The rich and complex debates around the epistemologies of performance events (see Phelan 2011), the ways in which performance remembers and remains have yet to find fully find traction in how we think across disciplines and curricula. We can celebrate or even fetishize the ephemeral. We can appreciate the tenderness and vulnerability it instills in a community of witnesses (see Blocker 2009 and Dolan 2005), and we can trouble the formations of the archive and our dealings with what remains (see Taylor 2003 and Schneider 2011). Our institutions, however, are still dominated by discursive models. Even when we employ a “practice-as-research” methodology, which offers new knowledge formations, we have yet to fully find parity with discursive norms. Phelan identifies the problem of institutions ignoring movement-based practices and recognizes the radical possibilities in considering movement:

Indeed, the rather slow pace of dominant institutions lumbering towards consideration of dance and performance illuminates something quite radical in the core of movement-based thinking. As a philosophical and epistemological injunction ‘movement’ punctures the ideological assumption that the centre is permanent, stable, secure. Thus the task before us is to shift from a consideration of the aesthetic dimensions of movement to a consideration of movement as ethical principle and practice. (22)

Movement-based thinking, developed in and through performing arts, is yet to find its full articulation and impact across our institutions. This entwinement of conceptual frameworks and embodied practices enables us to see and think with and through movement, not to build knowledges against a fear of failure or instability but to develop knowledge practices which integrate mobile ability to respond to unpredictability, change, and the unknown and unknowable. This is not to replace discursive practices but to look at the limits of words as border-making and how we can develop and further our understanding and applications of movement-based thinking. Attending to the non-verbal registers of movement and audio-visual documentation and media opens new paradigms for research and development.

Not only do we need conceptual frameworks that can help us navigate the overflow of this Information Age also, we urgently need to find bridges between individuals’ experience and the planetary framework. This work is being pioneered by dance scholars who are practice-based, and this work is just beginning to emerge. As Longley has noted:

Researching posthuman relations through somatic, improvisational and site-based dance practices enables a testing of abstract concepts through material and temporal means. Distinctions between theory and practice dissolve as haptic explorations generate theoretical insights and philosophical provocations extend how dancers understand their work. (230)

Longley and others give us examples of how dance explores this haptic terrain. Further work remains to expand this potential across a range of performing arts practice and to integrate across a range of critical transdisciplinary areas (including for example, pedagogy, health, and environmental science). The intersections of the arts with these transdisciplinary sites seeks to address the entrenchment of a certain kind of morass, what Lauren Berlant has called a “cruel optimism,” where, with all the wealth of the West, all should be within anyone’s grasp, and yet, the tantalizing gap between glittering images of “the good life” and actual possibility of attainment yawns ever wider. Somatic practice is just one form that offers embodied engagement; however, it offers a model for the basis from which to wrestle these “overwhelming” problems must be rooted in on a human scale so that they can be tackled by humans in communities, not simply devastating individuals in isolation.

An Open Ending: Wandering and Wondering

No learning can avoid the voyage. Under the supervision of a guide, education pushes one to the outside. Depart: go forth. […] In the wind, in the rain: the outside has no shelters. Your initial ideas only repeat old phrases. Young: old parrot.  The voyage of children, that is the naked meaning of the Greek word pedagogy. Learning launches wandering. (Serres 8)

Fig. 4: Wandering

This essay risks going nowhere. However, the wandering that Michel Serres celebrates is reflected in practices familiar to any creative endeavor. The first phases meander, try various options, turn things around, can often lead to cul-de-sacs. However, through awareness of this open process and practice, key trajectories and patterns emerge, leading to creative ideas and solutions and new questions.  Wandering forms into a clear line of focus and output, motivated by needs-based problems by wondering at the “what if” and following of the “why not.” We need to find ways of living together on this damaged planet. We need ways of communicating and understanding our bodies and their potential for expressive, creative, critical solutions to crisis and everyday life rather than fearful retreat, although that, too, is a movement. These propositions were something we knew once and that are excavated in the silly dances of childhood, which remind us of the song of the dinosaur or the dance of the woolly mammoth[14] or in a workshop where ontogeny and phylogeny are isomorphically mapped through movement. Those memories are embedded in deep underwater networks, both in the material submarine cables, which make this essay possible, alongside the tendons of the diaphragms, the vocal folds with which we hum and sing, and the imaginary lines cast out to explore the depths of the planet, the galaxies both within and beyond the human.

Works Cited

Azevedo, Nele. Artists Website. Accessed 4 June 2018.

Alexander, Kirsty and Thomas Kampe. “Bodily Undoing: Somatics as Practices of Critique.” Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices. 9:1 (2017). 3-12.

Bainbridge Cohen, Bonnie. Sensing, Feeling, and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering. Contact Editions, 1994.

— “Body-Mind Centering: An Embodied Approach to Movement, Body and Consciousness.” Accessed 4 June 2018.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism.Duke University Press, 2011.

Blocker, Jane. Seeing Witness: Visuality and the Ethics of Testimony. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Brecht, Bertolt. Life of Galileo, Translated byJohn Willlett. Meuthen, 1988.

CBeebies. Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures. “Woolly Mammoth Rap.” 7 July 2016.

Cross, Dorothy, et al. Dorothy Cross. Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2005.

Dolan, Jill. Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater. University of Michigan Press, 2005.

Eddy, Martha. “A Brief History of Somatic Practices and Dance: Historical Development of the Field of Somatic Education and its Relationship to Dance” Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices. 1:1 (2009), 5-27

—. Mindful Movement: The Evolution of the Somatic Arts and Conscious Action.Intellect, 2016.

Eidsheim, Nina Sun. Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice. Duke University Press, 2015.

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Farrar, Smith and Giroux, 2016. 

Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press, 2011.

Halprin, Anna. Planetary Dance. Accessed 4 June 2018.

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities, 6:7 (2015) 159-165. Accessed 4 June 2018.

—. “Donna Haraway – SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble.” Situating Science. University of Alberta. 24 March 2014. Accessed 4 June 2018.

—.“Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene.” Eflux Journal #75.(September2016). 4 June 2018.

—. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.

—. “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far.” ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. 3 (2013). 4 June 2018.

Hamilton, Garry. “The Secret Lives of Jellyfish.” Nature News. 531:7595 (22 March 2016). Accessed 4 June 2018.

Hawking, Stephen. (Editor). On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. Running Press, 2002.

Hayward, Eva. “Sensational Jellyfish: Aquarium Affects and the Matter of Immersion.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 23:3 (2012) 161-196.

Ingold, Timothy. Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Routledge, 2013.

“Global Water Dances: Dancing For Safe Water Everywhere.” Global Water Dances. Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies. Accessed 4 June 2018.

Longley, Alys. “‘Skeleton Boat on an Ocean of Organs’ and Other Stories:  Understanding and Evoking Posthuman Relations Through Site-based Dance, Somatic Practices, Performance Writing and Artist-books.”Text and Performance Quarterly. 36: 4 (2016) 229-249.

Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. MIT Press, 2009.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press, 2002.

Morton, Timothy.  “‘Stuff Can Happen’: Miracle Marathon 2016: Timothy Morton.” Serpentine Galleries. Accessed 4 June 2018.

O’Sullivan, Kevin. “Stinger Jellyfish Swarms Wipe Out Farmed Salmon in West of Ireland.” The Irish Times. 6 October 2017. Accessed 4 June 2018.

Phelan, Peggy. “Moving Centres.”Move. Choreographing Art and Dance Since the 1960s. Edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, MIT Press, 2011, 20-30.

Schneider, Rebecca. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. Routledge, 2011.

Serres, Michel. The Troubadour of Knowledge.Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser with William Paulson. University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. Routledge,1988.

—. “Scattered Speculations on the Subaltern and the Popular.”Postcolonial Studies. 8:4 (2005), 475-486

Taylor, Diana. The Archive and The Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Duke University Press, 2003.

Tucker, Abigail. “Jellyfish: The Next King of the Sea.” Smithsonian Magazine, August 2010. Accessed 4 June 2018.

[1]This work is underway in many formats and performances that aim to link the local and individual with the global. See for example, Global Water Dances, Anna Halprin’s Planetary Dance or work by artists such as Néle Azevdeo. See for example:

[2]Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failureoffers us SpongeBob as our guide : “What is the alternative, SpongeBob wants to know, to working all day for Mr. Krabs, or being captured in the net of commodity capitalism while trying to escape? This book is a kind of “SpongeBob SquarePants Guide to Life,” loses the idealism of hope in order to gain wisdom and a new, spongy relation to life, culture, knowledge, and pleasure” (1-2).

[3]See Alexander and Kempe, who articulate the need for developing the critical engagement and vocabulary for somatic practice to address its Eurocentrism alongside its position in relation to neoliberalism and the “polycrisis” of the planetary.

[4]Of course this risks failure, but as Halberstam argues: “Low theory tries to locate all the in-between spaces that save us from being snared by the hooks of hegemony and speared by the seductions of the gift shop.  But it also makes its peace with the possibility that alternatives dwell in the murky waters of a counterintuitive, often impossibly dark and negative realm of critique and refusal” (2).

[5]The practice of using imagery to inform more nuanced movement is nothing new in theatre or dance training. In somatic lineages a particular form is found in the work developed by Mable E. Todd in The Thinking Body and through modes of ideokinesis and continued by many practitioners today.  The work I’m outlining here builds on that use and engagement of the imaginary, but also reminds us of the material otherness evoked as a way to provoke a thinking that isn’t just about the body but about the ways we co-inhabit this planet in interspecies and evolutionary ways. In reaching for a word that would encapsulate something of what I’m after, thoughtways comes to the fore as an attempt to trace thinking in process, both to recognize patterns of thinking as movement patterns so that we might be open to new emergent thoughtways.

[6]I must acknowledge the inspiring work of Irish visual artist Dorothy Cross, who has developed an elaborate body of work that interweaves with multiple species, including jellyfish in her Medusa series of projects, although it is beyond the scope of this essay to elaborate on here.

[7]BMC® itself is a practice that has interwoven may layers of influence from traditional therapies, dance, and martial arts practices. It is beyond the scope of this introduction to fully elaborate on this practice and the field of somatics more broadly. See further background on BMC® here:; see Eddy (2016) for an overview of BMC® in the lineages of somatic practice.

[8]SF is an acronym Haraway proliferates into multiple meanings, including speculative fabulation opening up the space between fact and fiction, science and myth. (See Haraway, “SF:String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble”).

[9]Further in-depth examples are available on her DVD series and through workshops offered by practitioners worldwide.

[10]See also work of Juliana Snapper who experiments with underwater opera, for example: See also Nina Eidsheim’s book, Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice, for a discussion of Snapper’s work.

[11]See Hayward for a discussion of the affective draw and staging and relational politics of the “Drifters” exhibition at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California for an interesting example.

[12]I am very grateful for the openness of the participants at a workshop I offered in July 2017 at Dance and Somatic Practices Conference at Coventry University, UK, and at the Embodied Monologues conference at National University of Ireland, Maynooth in May 2017. Together, we physically and vocally explored the possibilities in these ideas.

[13]Nina Eidsheim also looks at the ontogenetic development of listening where researchers have traced how hearing begins in skin and skeletal systems, she adds: “our sense of hearing relies not only on excited eardrums, but also on sound conduction and vibrations throughout the body” (54).

[14]See for example “Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures”: