Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Community of Sense

The relationship between music, dance and community is a recurring theme on this site, but the word 'community' has come to be appropriated in ways that I am not comfortable with. In some uses it seems to imply an enforced membership of a social body and an obligation to abide by its mores. Worse it often implies an exclusion of those deemed outside of the community - like those migrants locked up in detention centres because they lack the papers to belong to the national community even though in every other repsect they have shared the social life of their neighbours.
I am more concerned with a looser, more open notion of community, the kind of free association constituted by the passage of a few persons (or maybe a lot) through an intense period of time.

In this respect I was interested in an exchange between the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and critic Chantal Pontbriand. The fomer argues that the word community "has come to connote very much the 'exclusive community'... That is why I prefer to speak of being-in-common or being-with". This is "No longer a community whose meaning would derive from some grand narrative, but a community of sense, which makes sense, a community of ties and touch, elaborated pragmatically rather than dogmatically" (Pontbriand).

For Nancy, this sensual connection with others can be magnified by art, which "intensifies a sensibility or a sensoriality, bringing it to an extremity where, precisely it touches the others". This can involve "Hearing, seeing, touching oneself, letting oneself be heard, seen, touched, smelled, sensed: art as the intensification of 'sensing'".

If this is so, the music space (the club/gig/party) certainly intensifies our auditory sense through volume and quality of sound. But it also intensifies the community of being experienced through the senses, constituted by the different ways our bodies relate to each other "distant-near, reachable-unreachable, desirable-fearful, erotic, powerful, weak, fleeting, confrontational etc".

This is precisely the dynamic of the fleeting community of the senses that is the dancefloor - not an undifferentiated mass, but defined by bodies moving in relation to each other - not just moving to the music, but moving to be nearer the object of desire, to get away from the moody guy, to invite in or exclude others from personal space...

I read this exchange in Common Wealth, edited by Jessica Morgan (Tate: london 2003), but it is now available online. Photo of clubbers in Berlin 2006, by Loewenhertz.

1 comment:

Techno Tony said...

Mafessoli talks about neo-tribes, as provisional communities whereto individuals come and go. These neo-tribes, he adds, have a Dionysian component: affection, solidarity, comunitas etc. I'm not so sure about his belief on the death of individualism though. Of sorts I'd say. True, you get lost (temporarily) in such neo-tribes, and learn about solidarity, nature etc. But then the choice to join and leave, and to move on to other neo-tribes when you fancy, seems to me, suggests that the individual is still alive, full of desires, reflexive interests, and consumerist compulsions as well, etc.

Excellent blog, as always!