Would you mind indulging me for just a second?
Take a breath, close your eyes and listen. Listen to the street, footsteps on the pavement, glasses clinking, your own inhalation, anything that is around you. Listen and be still.
Now, feel your hands and drop into your body. Without your sight, what bubbles up for you? What is it like to have 360 degrees of stimulus? How is the energy behind you different from that in front of you? After a few minutes, open your eyes and see what is surprising and how quickly the mind reacts to vision. How quickly do you make stories out of the objects that you see?
While the above exercise may seem overplayed, it is one I cherish and do routinely. Not only is it a great meditation but it makes one painfully aware of how ocularcentric our bodies and minds have become.
It’s probably no surprise to you when I say that we live in a visual culture. We rely immensely on the objects we can see for reason, and clarity. Without them, the world could seem chaotic or overwhelming. Especially in western cultures, we ground ourselves in the eyes and perform accordingly. I begin to think: although vision is considered the pivotal bridge to understanding, could it also be numbing the possibility of performance?
Did that just blow your mind? Piss you off? It kind of does both to me, actually. Go ahead, ask: How the hell is vision related to human performance? Well, ocular centrism and performance are all about how we create/consume knowledge. In our society, epistemologies are often pitted against each other. This creates an unnecessary but very fixed hierarchy.
Ocular knowledge (which is seemingly almost always favored) is founded in reason making and practical interpretations. On the contrary, performance is holistic, focusing on embodiment and transformation. It is a radical epistemology that does not favor the body over mind but rather recognizes the beautiful tension between the two. So if performance is an integrated way of knowing, it cannot truly flourish in an ocular centric world. Performance needs all of the senses and a willingness to surrender to them.
That was a lot of theory, please forgive me. Let’s go back to something a bit more real and exciting. Close your eyes again and listen to the previous performance of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
Because you cannot see what is going on, your imagination goes wild, yes? Who do you imagine is performing that piece? Where are they? What is their story? The possibilities are absolutely endless and we must creatively engage with the text in a way that watching someone speak doesn’t allow. Our minds shift from being text-centric to blowing the text open into an eclectic performance.
How we use our senses in the everyday is crucial to how we perform our many roles in life. What we see, changes the way we think and believe. If we want to veer away from visual pereception, we need to favor other modes of understanding and re-apply them into our lives.
For example, when we dance, the focus can move from what we are seeing (or what we think others are seeing) to an internal feeling of release. The emphasis can shift away from aesthetic and toward experience. This is true for singing, laughing, writing, learning and just about everything else that we do. It is my belief that as we rely less on the external, our performances will become more authentic and meaningful.