Almost to the Finish Line

Dang it! I wanted to use that title for the final blog post. Wait, have I actually used this title before in another class? Hmm…

I guess this is going to be another progress update. I wish I could say that the Act 2 of the story was complete but it seems like I need a few more days. Though I’m not bummed at all because the delay was not caused by time restraints but rather by making change in narrative. As in, I decided to change a certain portion of the story because I managed to come up with a better, more exciting, alternative for it. Should I spoil it here? I probably had mentioned before that I do not follow a linear path when it comes to writing. I imagine “scenes” and write them down, only to fill the gaps later. At least, that’s the simplest way that I can describe my writing method at the moment. Sometimes, this fill-in-the-gap portion of the story is pretty straightforward but this time around I had to make changes for a better result, which ended up consuming more time obviously. You know what they say: “Quality over quantity.” Thus, sacrificing more time was no brainer.

Another thing that I should mention is the implementation of the themes into the story. I mentioned this before, in previous blog post, but I was not absolutely sure how to approach it. It was more of a “thinking-out-loud” kind of thing —not so different than what I’m doing now actually. However, I believe I’ve got the answer(s) for it now. The first theme in question was the disassociation one. I think I can manage to make it clear by focusing on the perspective of one individual character who is experiencing this “phenomenon”. I also need to revise, and add, certain things into Act 1 in order to show how this affects the character. For example, writing a ritual scene or some sort of custom that the group of characters follow or abide by. Over the course of the story, the individual character changes his perspective, stops to follow others, and begins to “see things” that they cannot. Of course, this is extremely vague description of it. I was not able to do much researching this past couple of weeks to offer a better explanation but I hope it was (somewhat) clear. The other theme in question was the patterns that determine fate or destiny. I believe that this is something that should be clear by the end of the story instead of now. As in, something that the reader can put together in his/her head in hindsight once the narration is complete. Examination of the patterns of events or character decisions within the story, so to speak.

There is still much to do (if it weren’t clear already) for my thesis but I’m in a pretty good mood because I’ve got a “map” to follow. I should to emphasize though, I need a better discipline in order to overcome time management issues. Sadly, being present on campus does not really help anymore. I figured that relocating was a prefect way to “recharge” my creative mind to do some good writing but it seems as if that certain method is running its course. I do not know whether it’s due to me assimilating to it or what, but I started to feel tired and reluctant to write when I make my way over to library, or another location on campus. I merely do some typing, read random articles on internet (basically killing time), grab something to eat, and then go home. It’s very productive, I know. At the moment, my plan for the next act of the story is going to be writing summaries of each chapter down and then “play connect-the-dot”. It’s a more simplified and faster approach to my usual way but it could actually help me with time management. Is it safe to say that it’d be an experimental one? Either way, I hope it works out.

Well, I guess that’s enough of a progress update. There is really not much to say for the time being. I should be back in research mode by next week. So, I’ll hopefully be able to write down some “interesting” things in my next blog post. For whatever reason, I still haven’t checked to see if the book I needed was available at the book store I work at. It might have been something to do with the Comic Con promotion going on in the store. My mind was always on those graphic novels which were being displayed by the storefront. Now that I’ve got the books I wanted to get (at a good discount), I can finally shift my attention to the task at hand and get the book I really need for my thesis. Still, I should probably make a note of it and put it in my wallet, just in case some other distraction gets in the way.

Week 5: Digging Around in my Lit Review

I find it very humbling to take on the responsibility of documenting something historical. I am reminded of the lesson in our theory class about the importance of multiple stories and the danger of the single story. Sometimes academic writing feels to me like the ultimate battle of the single story, each author fighting for their own point of view as if it were fact. I am thinking a lot about this question: who gets to define history? I came upon this quote in the novel, A Gentleman in Moscow P.173, by Amor Towles.

“History is the business of identifying momentous events from the comfort of a high-back chair. With the benefit of time, the historian looks back and points to a date in the manner of a gray-haired field marshal pointing to a bend in the river on a map. There is was, he says. The turning point. The decisive factor. The fateful day that fundamentally altered all that was to follow.”

This idea of the benefit of time hit on something important that is swirling around in the thesis of my thesis and as of yet has not quite allowed me to put my finger on it….so here I will continue writing to shape thought….Defining something that has already happened may be astute and capture an element of reality but it must never be overlooked that it is one person’s perception of a myriad of experiences that go into any given reality.

I know my focus at this point is supposed to be on churning out chapters. I have been working consistently on this task and am always shocked how much time everything takes. I find that I generally have a creative burst after I have worked on some academic component of the work For example,  I find that digging around in my lit review is helping me create a vocabulary for the experiences I wish to document that have felt elusive and beyond words. So, in honor of that I would like to talk about an article from my lit review entitled Improvisation in Dance, written by Curtis L. Carter for The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism in Spring 2000 that I worked on this week.

Curtis has been a professor of philosophy at Marquette University since 1971 and is chairman of the university committee on fine arts. He considers himself an aesthetician and a curator and has been deeply involved in the dance field as both a critic and a writer. He is also member of the National Executive Committee of the American Dance Guild. This read was a feast of history, philosophy and varying perspectives. Ironically, it is unclear to me if the man has any personal experience with dance himself or just as an observer.

I found two parallel themes to this article by Curtis. The first is the idea that improvisation has contributed to the democratization of dance and to the development of an open form leaving history behind to create new pathways.  Yes, those were his words, “leaving history behind.” I still am stunned as I read it. As you can see, I disagree.
The second theme takes the traditional forms of dance and music from around the world and analyzes improvisation within the structures of the lineage it builds upon. I would argue that at times this opposes Curtis’s first theme in that by building on a lineage one is automatically incorporating history, not abandoning it.

Carter asks the question: Why is improvisation important to the arts? He then states with conviction that “improvisation is a means of suppressing the historical conscience that is necessary to break the causal chain between existing conventions and new developments in an artistic practice[1].” While I agree that improvisation has been one of many vehicles in changing artistic convention, I do not agree with the assertion that these developments must be about suppressing the historical conscience.

The historical landscape of improvisation is important to my work on the Simonson Legacy project because it is a defining characteristic of both jazz music and jazz dance. There are several aspects of improvisation that I felt were missing form Curtis’s analysis. Lynn Simonson often refers to the following terms when talking about jazz dance and music as it unfolded in New York City and Europe during the 1970s and 1980s: fusion, cross-pollination, openness to change, exploration and evolution. Simonson has always focused on the premise of curiosity as opposed to a nihilistic crushing of the past.

Dance Space Inc., the home of the Simonson technique from 1984-1999 was a hive of cross pollination and fusion. Simonson classes ran all day every day. Other studio spaces within the complex were rented for modern dance in all forms. Ballet classes peppered the schedule. The third floor of the building housed Lezly Dance and Skate school which pumped the air shaft full of roller disco, Motown hits and a full roster of Afro Caribbean and Haitian classes accompanied by traditional drumming. The basement space was home to Fareta School of African Dance and Drum, offering traditional West African dance and drum from Senegal and Guinea as well as Samba dance and drum from Brazil. The dueling rhythms at any time of day within the airshaft of the building would leave one unsure as to which continent they were on.

It is no surprise that Simonson remembers the following:
“We watched all of the real jazz teachers start to explore more world music and slower movement. And more modern movement. And then we watched the modern teachers get quirky and rhythmical. You know it’s all exploring. It’s that label thing again. Why does it need a label? And who is it that’s doing the defining?”

Simonson believes that fusion must be part of evolution, that there is always change. It’s part of the growth. It’s part of the exploring. It doesn’t make the past or the new form right or wrong, better or worse. It just is. Each element is informed by the last and brought forward into the new. We bring history with us.

I would argue that in order for improvisation to be a vehicle for change, as Curtis states, then the foundation rests on history and is carried forward through evolution. I do not believe that we can discard historical forms completely. Even if we move in a different direction it is in response to the past, therefore the past is contained within.

I am searching for the framework that defines Simonson’s perspective. And I have the luxury of seeking her approval once I think I have achieved my goal.

[1] Carter, C. Improvisation in Dance. The Journal of Aesthetic and Art Criticism. 58:2. Spring 2000