sarma Conversations in Vermont oralsite
Steve Paxton
Keywords, Vermont, 2001, 2019

Paradigm, 2001

Steve Paxton One does make assumptions about students, and I've written an article, which you probably read, about assumptions I made and the ways I tried to operate once I had pushed away from the paradigm of modern dance and got into a more complex movement thought. At Dartington, after the Schräber work, we started a new project. We decided to work on how Contact Improvisation would be received by people who had no sight, and so, we started working with people who were blind and found a way to train them, which required a lot of adjustment of the teaching paradigm that I had started with sighted students. My assumption was that if somebody was blind, they would be aware of their body. And so, I was quite surprised to discover that they were no more aware of their body than people with sight. I had assumed that sight was such a compelling sense that it overrode sensations or gravity or touch; the normal kinds of things that one is constantly doing in the world, so that therefore we don't notice it. It’s a habitual input that is disregarded by the consciousness. Only to find out that people without sight also didn't notice the habitual input. I'm telling you, it's an axiom. It's a training axiom.

They claimed that they didn't have a more developed touch skill. The people without sight that I talked to said that was just nonsense, that touch was more developed. That it was very difficult to read braille. It required a lot of training. I don't know how true it is because there's also the possibility that they didn't notice that it developed, because it developed slowly enough or without traumatic incident, so their sight might be taken away one day, the next day, they didn't suddenly…things didn't, you know…touch didn't lead to great sensitivity. That's a possibility.

But overall, I found that it was as mysterious to them how their bodies felt, as in a conversation that we had this morning where Danny [Lepkoff] said it took some time for him to find himself in Contact Improvisation, to find his center, the right awareness. It took some time to develop that. I thought this was a problem of people being aware of the outside of their bodies because of their sight and therefore without sight, you would be inside your body. But in fact, I find that the body, as the most continuously inputting to the brain element of our existence, is by large ignored, and so, we come back in a way to the process illustrated by the tea ceremony, where awareness is brought to something ordinary. That's the point of doing the ordinary. It is the process of developing the awareness of obvious material, which one is overlooking and is not, therefore, aware of consciously. So, the problem is how to bring the vast amount of material that exists in life and in sensing to consciousness in the mind.

And what is surprising when you look back at Contact Improvisation is that it wasn't recognized as a form. It was recognized as behavior amongst children, amongst babies, between babies and parents, and that it gets trained out of us because it becomes inappropriate, because of the encroaching sexuality, which we have to control so that people don't get into trouble with their sexuality in later years. It has to be trained out. So, it's a good example of paradigm. There is a controlling paradigm over the body, and that paradigm controls what you think of as appropriate or even possible. You might not think it's possible to do some things, which then after a little bit of training, you can do. It's just that you were trained not to think in that direction. It has all to do with the kind of an aspect which I'm still very curious about in the theory of paranoia, about the ability of a person to hide their experience or their thoughts or their desires from themselves.

And in the book Soul Murder [by Leonhard Shengold], there was an especially delicious paragraph, which I couldn't quote to you, but it exists in that book, about the nature of the mechanism of having a thought, recognizing the thought as negative, being able to put that thought away, or conceal it from yourself, forget that you have done this action, and carry on living with this kind of still water of incestuous longing as part of you, but not any longer giving the consciousness access to it as though the fact that it was out of the consciousness suggests that it doesn't exist anymore to the operator of the body. But other people might say, well, it's still operative on a subconscious level, and therefore, you have these problems in life. Therefore, you react to people in the way you do. Therefore, you don't get along with men, or you don't get along with women, or you don't get along with dogs, or you don't get along with society, or you don't get along with law in the way that you do, you know. It's something that you have forgotten that you ever knew and forgotten that you've forgotten it.

I don't believe in polarities, and I don't believe in integrities and that everything is integral finally. We don't have senses that operate so totally that we're aware of the final integrity. That we’re always going to be in a situation of achieving whatever we achieve as awareness. And the next generation won't even have that because they'll dismiss it or think of it as history and go on to achieve new awarenesses. And this must be a sort of operating project or not paradigm in the race that keeps this able to change, able to adapt because it does seem to me that we are in a world which in which change occurs, and therefore, we can't be too fixed in our understanding of it. We have constantly to have this slippage, and the ability to deny a paradigm is very important, however strongly it seems true in one’s societal group.

We say sometimes, truth can only be told in a story that illustrates the truth even if the event never happened or the people never existed. And people who try to write only the truth very often aren't able to put it in a way that anybody's interested in reading it. It doesn't even penetrate. The idea that there is a truth is very interesting. You know, there definitely is a fiction. We know that, but what is its opposite pole? And so, in this way, one could say the paradigm of polarization doesn't work for me. The idea that we can talk about one thing or the other. Including my own work. I have to accept my own work this way. What I know about my own work, I have to accept as a partial answer. I can just know the part of it that I have become aware of, so pronouncements are a little suspect, including my own pronouncements. Including what I just said.