Exorcising Neo-Platonism 1: Space & Movement

Okay, so here’s the always fantastic Alkistis Dimech of Scarlet Imprint talking at Trans-States:

Now, as I listened to her talk about butoh and how dance describes a space we create and then intersect with the world, I couldn’t but help thinking of creating magical/sacred space, ritual, and art in general. What I love about Dimech’s approach is that she emphasizes that there’s a collaborative or co-creative aspect to that definition & creation of space.

Space is generated through movement, made known through movement, and space is where action and self emerge, are born into, and she gestures to that sense of generative space and to cosmic mothers. The image makes me think of the Spirit hovering over the Waters before Creation, and while western thought has emphasized entirely the Spirit and its logocentric evocation of Creation, the primordial waters (Tiamat? Absu? Old Chaos?) do participate in Creation–are present at Creation as the space into which Creation inhabits. And in that sense, our dance and movements help evoke our own space into which we and our actions can be born.

We can create “our own” space by moving, dancing, but that creation entails entering the movement-space-dance of the cosmos. We link our space to above & below–heavens & earth–and we “communicate” with the imaginative space all about us and with everything and everyone else. Now, communicate is Dimech’s term, and it’s absolutely a great one. Why?

“Vile” Conversations & Participation

I think back to medieval and early modern concerns about women and speech, women in “conversation,” for conversation meant far more than just talking. I’m looking at the OED, and communication & conversation are absolutely appropriate ways of getting at these concepts:

  1. “The action of living or having one’s being in a place or among Also fig. of one’s spiritual being.” (active between 1340-1705, but note the 1611 KJV of Philipp. 3:20, as the OED notes: “For our conuersation is in heauen”)
  2. “The action of consorting or having dealings with others; living together; commerce, intercourse, society, intimacy.” (1340-1770) (I note Alexander Hamilton used this sense of the word in 1727.)
  3. “Sexual intercourse or intimacy.”

And so on. It’s not until the seventh definition that we get to “Interchange of thoughts and words; familiar discourse or talk.”[1]

It’s notable that conversation was often used to point to unlicensed sex for women, on the stage and elsewhere. The concept also connects to participation, which draws in classist associations, too. For example, in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV, Henry IV chastises his son Prince Hal for his “vile participation” in common society:

Harry, …

…thou has lost thy princely privilege

With vile participation: not an eye

But is a-weary of thy common sight,

Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more (1 Henry IV 3.2)

Participation was common and dirty, like the world, and women who conversed and participated were typically accused of prostituting themselves. Often, men saw unescorted women in public as being little more than publicizing themselves—that is advertising themselves—an argument still deployed in today’s rape culture.[2]

So, when Dimech talks about dance and movement creating a space about us and that we communicate through that space into, well, the space the world and everything else creates, that’s a fantastic, animistic image for me that runs counter to the very Neo-Platonist and dualistic separation from body and the world. Henry IV above is merely reflecting that Neo-Platonist sense that participation in the world is vile and to be avoided. Go fig: he’s a Machiavellian prince working to ensure he seems powerful, royal, divine in the senses that European political theology cultivates.

But Dimech points to the power and necessity of communication with the world through our sacred and magical spaces and the movements that create them.

Casting Magical Spaces

Alkistis Dimech is a dancer and magical practitioner, and even as I’ve seen what my own rubbish dancing can do for me, it’s not something I do often because I’m clumsy and my joints aren’t always up to what I’d like to do. But for me, her talk holds just as much pertinence for thinking about ritual and movement of all kinds, and how we use those techné to connect to the world(s) as active participants.

My sense of her talk is that, for her, butoh helps her bridge her “inner landscape”—her inner space and microcosm as an organic, dynamic, natural space (and how that inner landscape encompasses her depths of spirit and psych)—with the exterior landscape: macrocosm, the world, nature, the universe, other people, spirits, and everything else.

Now, many folks have different ways they get at doing all of that, but I found her talk very helpful for imagining how I open to the cosmos/world and how I express myself to that cosmos.

I read Dimech as suggesting that a goal is to become aware of yourself but also to be “very open.” That is, you have to move and open and connect in such a way that you achieve a suspension of ego to get at whatever will enter and/or emerge from you: your deeper self or a spirit. Dimech acknowledges that this process is potentially terrifying (pan-ic, I would say), but it’s also a way to manifest your interior, to open & mingle with the world, and about entering the living moment of the world. The experience should be immersive and inclusive—with the world, with nature, with the Dead, with spirits, with your community.

Towards these ends, movement is the primal language everything shares—and that can include sound, speech, light, and color. And the contact of spirit and self/body requires an intimacy and what Dimech calls wrestling as both beings establish and assert individuality, and both manifest their power to each other. I believe what she’s pointing to with power entails potency, agency, potentiality—asserting those to each other, but I also think of music: two instruments make sound, have their respective volumes, and they have to find the harmony that can emerge between them or else they produce incoherence and noise. Similarly, and far more in line with her kinesthetic mode, you have to move against and in relation to each other to produce the dance and communication you’re getting at: otherwise, you may wind up with only assault or flailing limbs.

Anyway, I always love hearing and reading Alkistis Dimech: she’s doing some good work out there.

Featured Image: Hecate: Procession to a Witches’ Sabbath by Jose de Ribera (1591-1652)

[1]conversation, n.,” OED Online, December 2016, Oxford University Press.

[2] For a quick take, take a look at Wiki’s article starting here and through into the 16th-17th Centuries.

3 thoughts on “Exorcising Neo-Platonism 1: Space & Movement

  1. Thank you. I really like your attentiveness to language, particularly your comments on ‘conversation’. In my translation of Le Livre des Esperitz, I note something very similar regarding the description of Satan, who is said to “converse en l’air pres de nous”. There is that sense of mingling, of consorting, as well as of dwelling and, finally, speaking. Traditionally, spirits and women threatened the contrived distinction between space and body that some ritualists still cling to. I look forward to a complete overhaul of how such interactions and conversations with an animate cosmos are considered and carried out. Will be writing more on this. – Alkistis


    1. Oh, absolutely. Women were seen as “leaky vessels,” amongst other things. I’m reminded of how Elizabeth I was paired with sieves in at least a couple of portraits as iconographic repudiations against charges of having lost her maidenhead and becoming a “leaky vessel”: see http://folgerpedia.folger.edu/The_Plimpton_%22Sieve%22_portrait_of_Queen_Elizabeth_I , where the Folger’s description and the art itself take on “magical image” and PR spin associations.
      I had an ABD friend who was working on research linking the Devil and women in medieval and early modern art & literature, with her thesis including that women often were represented as the WORSE between the two and the Devil often amplified in his devilry through rendering hir with feminine traits (http://www.sunypress.edu/p-2589-devils-women-and-jews.aspx was one of her starting points, I believe, but she had done tons with medieval church art & sculpture, sermons, & etc.). Those local representations, though, make me wonder if there might’ve been some (now ignored) incorporation of spirits from the lists or local spirit ecologies.
      Meanwhile, I enthusiastically await more on these & all topics from you!


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