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Dancing Media: The Contagious Movement of Posthuman Bodies (or Towards A Posthuman Theory of Dance)


Dancing Media: The Contagious Movement of Posthuman Bodies (or Towards A Posthuman Theory of Dance)

Bergen, Anna Hilary (2022) Dancing Media: The Contagious Movement of Posthuman Bodies (or Towards A Posthuman Theory of Dance). PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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My dissertation seeks to define a posthuman theory of dance through a historical study of the dancer as an instrument or technology for exploring emergent visual media, and by positioning screendance as an experimental technique for animating posthuman relation and thought. Commonly understood as ephemeral, dance is produced by assemblages that include bodies but are not limited to them. In this way, dance exceeds the human body. There is a central tension in the practice of dance, between the persistent presumption of the dancing body as a channel for human expression, and dance as a technicity of the body—a discipline and a practice of repeated gesture—that calls into question categories of the human. A posthuman theory of dance invites examination of such tensions and interrogates traditional notions of authenticity, ownership and commodification, as well as the bounded, individual subject who can assess the surrounding world with precise clarity, certain of where the human begins and ends.

The guiding historical question for my dissertation is: if it is possible to describe both a modern form of posthuman dance (turn of the 19th-20th century), and a more recent form of posthuman dance (turn of the 20th-21st century), are they part of the same assemblage or are they constituted differently, and if so, how? Throughout my four chapters, I explore an array of case studies from early modernism to advanced capitalism, including Loie Fuller’s otherworldly stage dances; the scientific motion studies of Muybridge and Marey; Fritz Lang’s dancing maschinenmensch (or the first on-screen dancing machine) in the 1927 film Metropolis; the performances of singer-dancer hologram pop star, Hatsune Miku; and American engineering firm Boston Dynamics’ dancing military robots. The figure of the “dancing machine” (McCarren) is central to my project, especially given that dance has historically been used as a means of testing machines—from automata to robots to CGI images animated with MoCap—in their capacity to be lively or human-like. In each case, I am interested in how dance continues to be productive of some kind of subjectivity (or interiority, or “soul”), even in the absence of the human body, and how technique and gesture passes between bodies, both virtual and organic, dispersing agency often attributed to the human alone.

I propose that a posthuman theory of dance is a necessary intervention to the broad and contradictory field of posthumanism because dance returns us to questions about bodies that are often suspiciously ignored in theories of posthumanism, especially regarding race (and historically racist categories of non/inhumanity), thereby exposing many of posthumanism’s biases, appropriations, dispossessions and erasures. Throughout my dissertation, I look to dance as both a concrete example and as a method of thinking through the potentials and limitations of posthumanism.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Humanities: Interdisciplinary Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Bergen, Anna Hilary
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:15 July 2022
Thesis Supervisor(s):Wershler, Darren and Acland, Charles and Thain, Alanna
ID Code:991143
Deposited On:27 Oct 2022 14:12
Last Modified:27 Oct 2022 14:12
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