Transitioning to the Symposium 2020.3-2021.6


The pleasures of the Gulag

Hidenaga Otori

In the twenty-first century, in the midst of the new Coronavirus, the project Nijinski at Midnight – planned and prepared since last year – has been temporarily suspended, and now, on Sunday, May 24, 2020, at 10:25 a.m., I’m addressing myself to all of those who are participating in this project. The following is my message as a participant as we go forward.

I had a hunch that Ko Murobushi’s Nijinski à minuit project might be an attempt of the becoming in the process of a certain void, and that it might become a place where a new search for resistance – a central feature of human activity in the twentieth century, and needed at all times – could be undertaken.

What do we resist? There have been many attempts at resistance in the twentieth century. A crouched body formed a posture of resistance. The twentieth century was also a tragic period of countless setbacks. But that kind of setback was at the same time at one with the practice of revolution, of the revolution defeated. There have also been many wars and many people killed. The twentieth century was called by many ‘‘an era of revolution and war’’. But after the twentieth century ended and we entered the twenty-first – and now the twenty-first century is coming to the end of its first two decades – I am beginning to think that the twenty-first century will come to be called by posterity “an era of war without revolution”.

The terminology that characterizes this era is the pleasures of the Camp.

In the nineteenth century, places of incarceration sprang up all over Europe. Then, in the twentieth century, camps emerged. The text “The camp as biopolitical paradigm of the modern” appears in Giorgio Agamben’s book Homo Sacer.

From jail to camp, in the midst of this aggravating of things, there has been human resistance. How do we represent it? For example, isn’t Beckett’s Godot the very picture of resistance, of sustained figures of human resistance? To make the body twitch like Vladimir or Estragon, that was Ko Murobushi’s Butoh. It concerns a system that should be destroyed, both in jails and camps. Those inside those spaces make their escape, hoping for the spaces’ demise and starting a resistance leading to destruction.

This is what humanity has been doing since the ancient Greeks, and it has been practiced by theater and by Butoh as an effort to form a model. In other words, the effective practice of rejecting the pleasures of the gulag. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Ko Murobushi’s A Thousand and One Nights of the <Outside>, as well as our attempt to point into the future, after Ko Murobushi’s death, towards the practice of his unfinished project Nijinski à minuit by calling it “Nijinsky the Midnight Pilgrim”, are all attempts to conceive of a vision for this era of war without revolution.

It is to reject and denounce the people of the twenty-first century – who have abandoned the idea of a new vision of the world, who enjoy oblivion and resignation, but who live in a lukewarm way in the pleasures of the camps. Ko Murobushi convulsed in the middle of the night. We too must run to Nijinski à minuit and crush the Pleasures of the camps.

It must be resisted. But I know.
Resistance is not fulfilled. Defeat, all the time. That’s why it’s absolutely a ‘convulsion’.
Ko Murobushi “I am a dancer of spasm” P345

To the <outside> of the camp, to Mallarmé’s <midnight>, I think with Nijinsky’s <Faun>, to turn the 21st century on its head.

Hidenaga Otori

Born in 1948 in Shizuoka. Theatre critic and researcher. Graduated from Tokyo Institute of Technology’s School of Engineering with a Master’s degree from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Letters. Committee member at Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), artistic director for Laocoon Festival (Kampnagel, Hamburg), and associate director at the Kyoto Performing Arts Center at Kyoto University of the Arts. Written works include The20th Century Polyphonic Art Theater (The Asahi Shimbun) and co-authoring Reverberation Machines: The World of Richard Foreman (Keiso Shobo). Translator of Tadeusz Kantor’s Let the Artists Die (Sakuhinsha) among other works. Currently working on “Hidenaga Otori’s Monkey Drama Theory for Provocation and Brainwashing.”

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