Do U Butoh?

Butoh is an expression of life and death. The freedom of the soul in dissonance with the limitations of the body. The infinity of potential wrapped in finite space and time.

Ha. I was going to write about how I didn’t understand why Harold Jaffe’s Anti-Twitter piece even made mention of Butoh at all (excepting, of course, the general morbidity of the piece) until I wrote the line above. It seems to me like Butoh is a perfect parallel of the textual limitations of Twitter; in providing space for only 150 characters to express deep feelings or complex actions, Twitter’s organizational schema seems to point at a couple of things that Jaffe seems to be experimenting with.

First, immediately (as n.e. 1 who has usd twtr has found out) thoughts are constrained and new modes of expression need to be created in order to elucidate brain activity (the soul?) to the public.

Secondly, however, this type of linguistic practice appears to chpn the ideas bhnd the txt. It seems almost like some digital form of thought cannibalism to me–where the writer literally needs to eat his own words in order to be heard in the given format. What is it about online lexicon and abbreviations that make us think of them as lesser than the ‘whole’ words I’m using now? In The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam what makes Luther’s hyp-txt speak less intelligent and poignant (other than his general inanity–or maybe the one precludes the other..?) than Miriam’s well-formed and balanced  text-speak ? What is it about our perceptions of these words and the way in which they are used that makes us believe that one is ‘right’ and ‘smart’ and ‘appropriate’ while the other is ‘wrong’ or ‘simple’ and ‘esoteric’. Both forms of language are the same based upon who you ask (as in, they are equally appropriate, silly, esoteric and smart–it just depends on who’s reading/writing them).
Would it be appropriate to type all of this in a Twitter entry or while grinding on WOW? of course not–but that’s because these formats are obviously indicative of different mediums and in the process of using the medium the lexicon is born. Is watercolor any more ‘appropriate’ than pastel? Maybe–it depends on what you want to do.

Now. I think that Jaffe’s piece is clever in its appropriation, but its execution leaves something to be desired. The concept of combining two forms of expression in order to illustrate the inherent limitations in both of them is good–the juxtaposition of suicide and death with typically flippant or breezy Twitter entry style is almost comical–but I seem to be missing the point when I consider the roles that the sound-bytes and expressionist birds play in the text as a whole. Why have the text appear on crumpled and burned paper, with slight animation buzzing over it like an 8mm film projection? What do these juxtapositions do? There is no music on Twitter. No animation. No place for drawings. Only text. If this is truly an Anti-Twitter piece, where is the Twitter? Only in textual limitation? Clever. Sort of. But this is nothing new; surrealist and Dadaist writers (along with one other sect I can’t think of right now) were imposing constraints on their works in order to be able to, say, write a novel without using the letter E, over seventy years ago.
Even now there is a movement called Limitism that attempts to do pretty much the same thing as a response to the corporitization and meaninglessness of art in the face of our  information overload global economy. This is all well and good: Jaffe seems to have a lineage behind him (even if he is just rehashing some old ideas in a new format)…

But my main problem is that his piece doesn’t make use of the Twitter lexicon that has (is) developed(ing) and instead seems to harvest the structural limitation (in the broadest aspect), force its conscription on alien topics (that seem limited themselves in their lack of history or perspective–something Twitter definitely avoids–all Tweets come from specific individuals) and in his rejection of everything Twitter, decides not to use its definitive language and instead chooses to bolster his piece with multi-media additions that (as far as I can tell) don’t have anything to do with Twitter or his subject matter.

It would have been real punk if he had decided to absorb Twitter and use it for his own aims. As it stands, Butoh is still brilliant and is representative of what Jaffe is trying to do (esp when he is speaking about death) but each step in Butoh–even the non-existent one–is an expression of movement, an expression of the soul through the body, and is an illustration of the world and set of experiences/perceptions that as human beings we are all locked in.
The darkness and ambiguity of Jaffe’s piece seem to rule out the lifelessness of the incomplete suicide stories and instill them with some hidden history–something from the author(?)…but (again) once we’re there, how do we go back to Twitter? where is the balance? and where is the anti?

The challenge is not in writing less, but saying more with less. Kazuo Ono does not dance like Baryshnikov but he doesn’t need to.

–Josh Barnes


~ by hobodreams on April 17, 2010.

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