Figuration: A Philosophy of Dance

Dissertation, Vanderbilt University (2012)
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Dance receives relatively little attention in the history of philosophy. My strategy for connecting that history to dance consists in tracing a genealogy of its dance-relevant moments. In preparation, I perform a phenomenological analysis of my own eighteen years of dance experience, in order to generate a small cluster of central concepts or “Moves” for elucidating dance. At this genealogical-phenomenological intersection, I find what I term “positure” most helpfully treated in Plato, Aristotle and Nietzsche; “gesture” similarly in Condillac, Mead and Kristeva; “grace” in Avicenna, Schiller and Dewey; and “resilience” in Fanon, (Judith) Butler and Deleuze. With these analyses in place, I apply the four Moves in analyzing various forms of dancing (including salsa dancing and the pollen dance of the honeybee) and coordinate them to outline a comprehensive philosophy of dance. This philosophy points to certain conditions for an ideally flourishing, dancing society. And these conditions create the possibility for a coalition of sympathetic discourses (including critical race theory, queer theory, disability studies and democratic theory) united in pursuit of political virtue. The development of a philosophy of dance offers a deeper understanding of the intellectual values of a practice often identified with bodily immediacy and therefore judged uninteresting. It also reinvigorates philosophy with the dynamism and bodily relevance of the practice of dancing. Most important, it demonstrates the meaningful intersection of aesthetics and political ethics, by exploring how aesthetic practices underlie and inspire human flourishing.
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