Intimacy & Generosity

I’ve got a number of posts hidden away in an older online wiki project (The Househedz project).  Since that project is about to take new shape and form in a revised online structure come 2010, I will be moving some of those posts here in the hope they become less hidden and open to feedback and discussion.  This one is originally from Nov. 2008:

Many of the projects I’m currently working on from writing to performance are concerned with fostering conditions for closeness, vulnerability, a way toward becoming deeply familiar. I have been trying to make sense of something that seems to be shared across the fields of ethnography and choreography (at least as I use them). Investments of time and energy. Listening to & gathering many small stories. Building relationships between participants, between ethnographer/choreographer and the people with which we work/create as we gather and shape information.

In a conversation with another dance artist today, we were talking about choreographic process and community-building and somehow we got to discussing what the necessary conditions were for building community or perhaps it was what we loved about choreographic process and generating material with a group of performers…What I remember clearly was that in describing a sort of best-practices for choreographic process she used the word “generous” and immediately I thought YES! That is what I love most about dancers and studios and art-making. It is the sweat and bodies so close in relation, so dependent on each other, required to trust each other in the act of moving together and how this reckoning with and recognition of another human presence pushes us to be more than tolerant, but to be generous to an other’s presence. And that is also what I love about ethnography – how putting one’s body in an other context makes the senses work differently, how familiarity goes out of the window for at least a period of time until one begins to understand the code of this other context/social world and that this too requires a certain amount of generosity – not to try to contain or own or completely categorize but to go slow by building relationships with people, with the landscape, with the everyday things and words and events that are in use/invested with meaning. That an ethnographic generosity is in part about giving up authority to learn an other’s way of seeing and being in and knowing the world – to engage in a negotiated dance of going with (i.e., humbling oneself to the world one has entered, being prepared to listen, follow, take in, be quiet, etc) then leading (i.e., taking charge of one’s own interpretation, analysis and narration of the ethnographic experience) and repeating this cycle unevenly as long as encounter persists (as physical act or act of memory)…

How can we operate with generosity in our art and in our research and in our daily lives? What’s the difference between intimacy and generosity? They both share these ideas of closeness and vulnerability – for to be intimate requires one to let down one’s guard to let another in and to be generous requires that we give up (at least in part) some of our cynical distrust of others…and somehow it is encounters with others via body-to-body contact that helps this intimacy and/or generosity to appear…

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