The (love) letter is a mediated extension of the body, an externalization of the desirous body, the body in want, and in waiting. When driven to write a love letter, the body apparently has no other option but to take to this entirely disembodied format in order to express its longing for contact of some kind. I want to consider this idea of disembodiment by actually re-situating the discourse of a letter as an activity within the body. I want to access the language of the body to communicate, convey, and collapse any and all conceptual frameworks that our written words repeatedly attempt to define. The results will be of the body, through the limbs, the extremities, through sighs and screams, orality, the voice—and a new text, the body as discourse can emerge.
To pursue this re-embodying of the letter, I will work with a collaborator (Anthony Romero) on a dance piece surrounding the case study of the historical design couple Eero and Aline Saarinen, whose letters to each other have been archived at the Smithsonian Institution. Of particular interest to us both is how Eero took to systematically organizing his relationship with Aline (within his letters to her) in a comparative model of success—the happier the marriage the less successful the careers of the couple, and vice versa. Something about this model or modeling conjures a positioning, a creation of balance, a tension, a building, a grid, an equation, an if/then statement that definitely corresponds with a possible choreography.
The choreography and scoring of this project will result in both a performance and a written work, tentatively built upon our research and readings of Jacque Derrida’s The Post Card, Roland Barthe’s A Lover’s Discourse, Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther, John Berger’s I Send You This Cadmium Red, Meg Stuart’s Are We Here Yet?, Peggy Phelan’s Mourning Sex, and of course the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers. These idiosyncratic texts are perhaps a key to the rationale behind my coming to this topic of letters—something less a rationale, or rational, or objective, and more subjective, emotional, and my own. Why letters? Because both illness and abuse disembody a person and my own experience has led me to letters as a safe place to reconnect, to reconsider touch, even taste, to rediscover voice as coming up through the gut. Because when the body is forced out of use, into a dark room, into tears, into fear behind locked doors, a sort of desperate loneliness subsumes. And yet, you can’t handle hearing the other’s disinterest as on a telephone, you can’t handle expecting an immediate response as with a text, you can’t handle feeling the disappointment of vacancy and failed contact as in live conversation. However, with a letter you can suspend disbelief and be strong and handle anything. A letter is a hero’s work. A letter is romantic. A letter let’s the body be romantic in a world that is not. A letter is choreography for the hero’s triumph. A letter that is danced can peel back the doubting of that word “love” against which the skeptic has so carefully built up an armor.
Aline Saarinen to Eero Saarinen, Birthday Card (“The Case-History of a Romance”), 1953 August 20, Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, 1906-1977, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
see project overview
Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.
Because he writes of waiting, of frenzy, of touch… and he writes without a responder.
Berger, John, and John Christie. I Send You This Cadmium Red —: a Correspondence between John Berger and John Christie. Barcelona: ACTAR, 2000.
Because they write in response, always in response, whether to each other, or to a color, or to an idea of color, or to a loss of it.
Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud and beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987.
Because he questions who is writing, and to whom, and to send what and where? And yet, he engages the very medium to do his questioning, making it all the more dramatic and emphatic.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von. The Sufferings of Young Werther. New York: F. Ungar Pub., 1957.
Because it is the extreme epitome of romantic epistolary writing in the literary genre, and explores not so much the love letter but the lover denied of love who thus turns to the letter for relief (which nonetheless fails him).
Phelan, Peggy. Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories. London: Routledge, 1997.
Because she understands bodies as distant from ourselves until understood as traumatic, until symptoms play themselves out through our limbs. These traumas motivate us toward attachment, however distant and disembodied—our bodies long for other bodies, for touch, in order to know ourselves as bodies at all.
Stuart, Meg, and Jeroen Peeters. Are We Here Yet? Dijon: Presses Du Réel, 2010.
Because despite her great success with her dance company Damaged Goods, she humbly claims that she’s “still learning to make dances… [that] you invite people into a fiction or set of circumstances so you have to honour that reality and care for it. Living a scenario, a specific fiction, whatever it is, whether it is articulated or not, identified or not—that’s where it all starts for me… you exchange your private truth for a collective agreement that prescribes a specific kind of behaviour. You fall into a script and ride its waves.” Such is the call and response of a letter. Such is the the task of writing a dance and dancing a letter.