Sliding Towards the Body Without Organs 

And in descending to the depths I realize that down is up,
and I rise up from and into the deep.”

—   Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera (74)


[1] In, respectively, the essays “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977) and “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich” (1981), which were later bundled in Sister Outsider (1984), and the book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987).

[2] Antonin Artaud’s own wording in “The Theatre of Cruelty (First Manifesto)” (4).

[3] Tarika Wahlberg, who is seen watching Feyona in the beginning of the scene, says that she would like to “work more with that, to feel like a subject claiming the public space”, implying that that is what Feyona is doing in this moment.

[4] Deleuze posits that there is a virtual dimension wherein structures such as the body without organs exists. This does not mean that they do not exist, but rather that they exist in another dimension of reality. “The body without organs us not a mere fantasy or mental image. Rather, it is a virtual entity, real without being actual” (Bogue 61-62)
Fig. 1. Still from scene four featuring Feyona Naluzzi, Tarika Wahlberg, Cajsa Godée and Emelie Enlund. Screenshot.

            In the short documentary JUCK [THRUST] (2018), the dancers manage to non-verbally point out different patriarchal constructs that are still at work in our society today and show their embodied refusal to adhere to these rules. It is a mechanism that can be seen in the way the dancers shine a light on, confront, and problematize the beauty myth and the white male gaze, and similarly in the way they unapologetically break the happiness seal and take up space in the underground. While the topic varies, the approach thus stays the same, and this includes the choreography that may vary slightly but ultimately always comes back to the same core movements. At a certain point, however, the negative affect builds and with it the choreography is twisted into a near primal scene until finally it is completely let go off when Feyona Naluzzi enters an otherwise pitch-black room and slides almost entirely off the scale of negative affect into the realm of unhinged spectacle as she fits, startles, screams, and growls. Resulting in a physical performance that is strongly affective, the scene and its ‘disorder’ seem to highlight the cultures of control that demarcate our daily lives (Gotman 16), but most of all spark the following question: what happens when you disturb the distribution of the sensible by showing up in a shape that is unrecognizable?


            Working up to this specific scene, I first want to turn to Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua, two theorists who are both known for bringing affective, bodily knowledge to the forefront as a mode of thinking in its own right. Active during the second wave of feminism, both women spent time thinking and writing about the myriad of ways women have been subjugated and how this led to severe self-suppression of not only certain behaviours, but also certain feelings and emotions that were frowned upon (Anzaldua 28). However, just because women were not supposed to feel or be, for example, angry, does not mean these feelings were not there, and both Lorde and Anzaldua concluded that “that which male historiography omitted, suppressed or tabooed did not simply disappear” (Bovenschen et al. 85), but rather lives on inside the body, stirring below the surface, waiting to be released. Starting with the idea that women have pushed away unacceptable feelings to avoid rejection for far too long, Lorde and Anzaldua therefore advocated for the opposite; calling upon women to tap into “these places of possibility within ourselves” (Lorde 36), “these deep places … of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling” (37) to release “the rebel inside” (Anzaldua 38) and step away from further abnegation. 
            While, for both women, this sentiment was spiritually loaded, as Audre Lorde used it to conceptualise what she described as “that which is dark, ancient and divine within yourself” (69) and Gloria Anzaldua named it “the Shadow-Beast” (38) which rises in the subconscious, it is also, more practically, an encouragement for women to break with the ideal woman and step out of the confines that patriarchy created. This is quite remarkable, mostly because Lorde and Anzaldua did not only encourage woman to look at their repressed feelings and question the mould they had been forced into; they also encouraged them to actively break that mould and to let the forbidden feelings run wild, to “let [that] repressed energy rise” (Lorde 36). What was moreover interesting considering the period of time they wrote in, was their emphasis on the potential murkiness of both the process and the feelings, as Lorde called on women to invite “the chaos which is Black, which is creative, which is dark, which is rejected, which is messy, which is … sinister, smelly, erotic, confused, upsetting (101) and Anzaldua, who did warn that it might be frightening at first, described it as a face-off with a dark shining thing “fangs barred and hissing” (42).
            While Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua’s writing on these matters were first published between 1977 and 1987[1], their message is still relevant considering that, apart from women in horror films as thoroughly documented by in the first place Barbara Creed in her seminal book The Monstrous-Feminine (1993), it is still wildly uncommon to see women in media let loose in a way that is described in Lorde and Anzaldua’s work.  

Fig. 2. Still from scene four featuring Feyona Naluzzi, Tarika Wahlberg, Cajsa Godée and Emelie Enlund. Screenshot.

            It is, however, precisely this call to fully unleash all repressed energy that comes to mind when watching the dancers in JUCK [THRUST] progress from standing on subway platforms without showing emotion to their display of outwardly directed rage emphasized by contorted facial expressions and loud screams as seen in fig. 23. In fact, the dancers seem to glide only further down the scale of both negative affect and even slightly unhinged spectacle as, in the last six seconds of the scene pictured above, the clever use of slow motion takes both movement and sound and warps them into a near primal scene. After Feyona is seen opening her arms in a way that suggests she has just beaten her fists on her chest, the camera cuts and the audience witnesses in minute detail how the dancers crouch down, their shoulders rounded forward, their backs bent, arms wide and fists balled (see fig. 22). It is an impressive sight, but not nearly as impressive as the screams that come out of the dancers’ wide-open mouths (see fig. 23), deformed into one angry, almost monstrous grunt followed by sounds of their heavy breathing. Finally, the camera zooms in on Cajsa Godée, the dancer who looks most impassioned, as she lets out a final ‘hu!’, putting her whole body behind it, her mouth open in fury until she beats her chest and the speakers fail from the impact of the sound, the screen turning black.
            While up until this point, it may have been hard to see in JUCK [THRUST] not only a way of expressing anger, but also some of the uninhibited murkiness that Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua called for, in this third part of the scene the dancers and their grunts are arguably not far removed from Anzaldua’s dark shining thing “fangs bared and hissing” (42). The only thing that keeps the performance from completely crossing into uninhibited territory is the fact that the dancers are still in formation, following their simple but effective choreography like the Māori dancing their Kapa Haka, screaming out only at the appropriate moments.

Fig. 3. Still from scene nineteen featuring Feyona Naluzzi. Screenshot.

            This changes only at one point in the documentary, namely in the scene mentioned in the introduction to this chapter and previously discussed in chapter one when Feyona Naluzzi literally gets her moment in the spotlights and breaks with the choreography. Instead, she leans into a set of movements that comes across as not only more unrehearsed, but also more uninhibited and raw. Considering the order, or rather disorder, of heightened affect by which the body politic – the way bodies move in and have the ability to move public space – falls dramatically into disrepair in the scene (Gotman 7), I would go as far as to say that the movements might even be seen as choreic, referring to choreomania, also known as dancing mania or the dancing plague.


            While defining choreomania is difficult, considering that the term was coined by Swiss philosopher Paracelsus as far back as the sixteenth century and has since then moved through time as “rapidly and raggedly as that to which it referred” (Gotman 301), in its core the term indicates “fantasies of medieval and colonial outbreaks of dancing and song” (xiii), which, especially in the nineteenth-century, were seen as curses sent by either saint or devil (Lueger 955). Not to be confused with chorea, “the inability to control one’s movements” (949), or any other purely physical cause, choreomania is often referred to as epidemic choreomania or ‘the dancing plague’ and characterised by a contagious, uncontrollable urge to dance that was said to spread rapidly through sight or even sounds made by those afflicted (950). In its most extreme cases choreomania reportedly affected hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people at a time, causing them to uncontrollably dance in public for days or even weeks on end “as if possessed by some evil spirit … with almost superhuman endurance, exhausting the patience of the musicians” (953). Ultimately, the dancing mania was said to end when the dancers “fell down suddenly, as if dead … the morbid impulse apparently … destroyed” (953).
            Epidemic choreomania as described above has taken many shapes between the late medieval to early modern St. Vitus dance and the twentieth century Native American Ghost Dance, including the Tarantella, the Convulsionaries of Saint-Médard, the Abyssinian tigre-tier, and the Malagasy imanenjana (Gotman 16). While the phenomenon, that peaked in the nineteenth-century, petered out in the twentieth century, the concept has since then travelled onwards without its medical mantle. Modern dance and theatre, but also raves or even the viral spread of the Harlem Shake and Psy’s Gangnam style, still borrow from its lexical field (301). In 2018, scholar Kélina Gotman picked up the concept in her book Choreomania: Dance and Disorder, pointing out that while it is difficult to grasp or define choreomania, especially considering how drastically the different cases differ from one another, they do always have one common denominator: irregular or disorderly motility (4). Characterized by awkward, spasmodic, convulsive, erratic, spontaneous, jerky, and even “almost animal” (293) movements, the choreomania family tree has grown so spacious it began to signal practically anything or anyone that moved too much and too erratically (4).

Fig. 4. Still from scene nineteen featuring Feyona Naluzzi. Screenshot.

            Especially striking in relation to Feyona Naluzzi is Kélina Gotman’s description of choreic movement as that which is seen as moving “too jaggedly, too energetically, too disruptively … arms and knees jutted out at impossible angles; … faces contorted in anger and pain” (225). While the scene, that features Feyona in an otherwise pitch-black room, begins in a way that is still somewhat in line with the choreography of the rest of the documentary, the moment a loud gong sounds and cuts through the silence, the dance unravels into a variety of directions. Stopped in her tracks by the sound, Feyona’s right fist, which she had just used to slam into her left palm, is frozen mid-air before she begins to fit and startle as if infected by the sound of the gong. Her shoulders begin to shake, and her body is twitching when she throws her head back (see fig. 24) while breathing quickly and audibly, invoking the choreomaniacs who “never joined in the singing, but frequently uttered a deep sighing sound” (Lueger 954). With wild eyes and “a countenance that [has] assumed an indescribable, abstracted expression” (954) as if completely removed from the world around her, Feyona looks almost like a woman possessed when she makes jerky, angular movements and throws herself backwards to the ground (see fig. 25).
            Laying on the floor in complete silence like the choreomaniacs who could dance for hours on end until all of a sudden they dropped to the ground as if dead (Lueger 953), Feyona then turns on her back, opens her arms, and begins to scream very softly, in a high tone, while her face is contorted into agony (see fig. 26). Rolling onto all fours she continues to scream until the screams turn into growls and she begins to look menacing while throwing invisible dirt to the camera, making digging movements towards her crotch, still growling as if unearthing Gloria Anzaldua’s ‘Shadow-Beast’ within herself.

Fig. 5. Still from scene nineteen featuring Feyona Naluzzi. Screenshot.

            Besides the striking parallels between Feyona’s highly affective performance and the choreomaniacs of yesteryear, the scene also implicitly but significantly references modern dance and theatre, both of which carry choreic traces in terms of their emphasis on embodiment and free movement. It is especially the latter, modern theatre, that I would like to foreground in this instance.
            More specifically, I want to take a moment to look at the scene’s Artaudian quality, referring to Antonin Artaud’s avant-garde theatre that intended to operate from a place of emotion, feeling, and pure physicality, creating performances that were strongly rooted in the body (“Artaud and the Plague”). Interestingly, Artaud wanted the theatre he wrote, coined ‘the Theatre of Cruelty’, to work as a contagious, uncontrollable – one might even say choreic – force to turn his actors’ intellectual capabilities into pure, affective energy (“Artaud and the Plague”). The reason for this approach can be found in Artaud’s disillusionment with life, specifically “the unrelenting agitation of a life that has become unnecessary, lazy, or removed from a compelling force” (Gorelick 265). In his words: a life on the surface. This, to Artaud, was the meaning of true cruelty. Wanting to free not only himself, but also the audience from this devitalizing experience, he intended to use theatre to shock them out of their complacency by piercing “the surface of things” (Logic of Sense 7) with a “renewed exorcism” (The Theatre and Its Double 63) including bright flashing lights, unusual scenery, grotesque movements, shocking content, and, importantly, language beyond speech.
            Like Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, the main objective in the scene at hand does not seem to be to entertain nor to instruct, but rather to affect, and two of the most prominent ways this is achieved are by first of all placing the audience into the centre of the action and second of all communicating solely through groans, cries, and howls.
            Similar to how the Theatre of Cruelty aimed to remove the aesthetic distance between the stage and the auditorium in order to make their audience feel engulfed by and part of the spectacle (The Theatre and Its Double 96), the scene with Feyona keeps the spectator almost uncomfortably close to her performance. While the audience at home is not physically present like Artaud’s audience was, the camerawork still manages to recreate his idea of the theatre as an unstoppable vortex (19, 59), a constantly shifting shape that traps the audience and makes them feel unable to look or move away, doing so by creating inwards and vertical camera movements that are slightly shaky and give the impression that events are taking place in real time, and that anything might happen.
            While this close involvement already greatly contributes to the affective quality of the scene and may moreover even cause a certain sense of discomfort, the “language without articulation” (Logic of Sense 89) that replaces words and dialogue in both Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and Feyona Naluzzi’s performance tips the scale further in that direction. Believing spoken language to be an insufficient means of communication, Artaud wrote in his essay “Theatre of Cruelty (First Manifesto)” that he wanted to communicate on a different level, using language that is extended beyond words that would lead to “dissociative and vibratory action upon the sensibility [of the bystanders]” (The Theatre and Its Double 2). Key to this form of communication are groans, chants, cries, screams, and other inarticulate sounds such as those Feyona can be heard producing throughout her performance. Following Artaud, these sounds – stripped of meaning and chosen for their impact – together with the visual language of (grotesque) movement and gesture in a non-traditional theatre set-up, create a ‘spectacle’[2]that is deeply affecting in a way not at all unlike the choreomanias of back in the day.

Fig. 6. Still from scene nineteen featuring Feyona Naluzzi. Screenshot.

            In addition to the removed aesthetic distance and this ‘language beyond speech’ there is moreover the aforementioned overall, over-the-top, out of bounds quality of the scene. Whenever choreomania is the topic, the emphasis is on the adverb ‘too’, and with it becomes apparent that the ‘problem’ of choreomania, and simultaneously its continued (political) relevance, lies in the way it moves not only outside of streamlined choreography but also outside of the rules of proper conduct.
            Going back in time for a moment, the most important reason the idea of choreomania or ‘the dancing disease’ surfaced, is because modernity, specifically nineteenth-century colonial modernity, construed itself in relation to “alien others” (Gotman 10) that moved out of bounds. Concocting a myth about individuals that were ostensibly dark, unknowable, spontaneous and potentially dangerous, and projecting it onto those deemed politically lesser, such as women and especially people of colour, modernity made itself into its figurative counterpoint: white, pure, safe, and as good as motionless; a being “aseptic and ascetic at once” (302). While modernity presented its own constant focus on progress and continued busy-ness as rational and purposeful, choreomaniacs, on the other hand, with their “figures of twisting and writhing bodies, impulsive, gregarious, and in disarray” (10) were presented as disorganized and purposeless at best, threatening at worst. Although the physical danger of the choreic bodies was minimal, the way they spilled out of bounds threatened the entire system, alarming those who deemed themselves ‘proper’, like the white settlers who came to America and were frightened by the non-violent Native American Ghost dance, which they saw as a “life-threatening expression of cultural defiance” (Gotman 225).
            While in reality, the choreomanias were not half as threatening and dangerous as they were made out to be, this, however, does not mean they were not political events. Although choreomanias such as the Native American Ghost Dance, the Abyssinian tigretier or the Malagasy imanenjana, come across and, most importantly, are framed as spontaneous, disorganized moments of movement “operating according to barely visible choreographic lines” (Gotman 15), they are not unpolitical. In her book, Choreomania: Dance and Disorder (2018), Kélina Gotman argues that “despite the hyperbolic language of disorganization characteristic of choreomania narratives” (15), these dances are usually “agented events in which people wilfully come together to move history forward” (15), performing distinct political – or rather choreopolitical – presence. In fact, it is the very appearance of disorder that lends the choreomanias this presence, as it reveals the “spectre of bodily order against which [the dancers] trespass … highlighting a practice of boundary-making and an embodied system of order which may be transgressed, trespassed, or exposed” (16). In other words: it is this disorder against which order comes to light.
            Similarly, Feyona’s performance in JUCK [THRUST] creates a break in the police order – which depends on the identification of individuals with their true names and proper place (Dikeç 172) – not because she fails to follow the choreography, but because she transgress what is deemed proper on all accounts, hereby highlighting the cultures of control that women suffer under. While the dancers in the subway scene, who showed their rage or discontent and unapologetically took up space, created a break in the distribution of the sensible by pouring themselves in a new shape, Feyona does not show up in a new form here, but rather in one that is unrecognizable. Not just experimenting with a wider range of motion or different facial expression, Feyona’s choreic body is one that interrupts because it lurches, fits, startles, and rattles. It is a messy, overflowing body, “not striving to achieve in an economy of productive makings but … creating a break and an opening in the rhythm of everyday life” (Gotman 307), focused completely on disrupting and at the same time highlighting the collective choreographies of order by means of affect above anything else. 
            Considering that modernity made itself against the uncanny, often female, non-white other through orientalism and pervasive prejudice against anyone deviating from the norm, it is quite significant that Feyona, a black woman, is now invoking choreomania to turn against what has become of modernity. In a scene that is supposedly about what it means for a black subject to claim public space[3], Feyona dances in a way that refuses the call to order, not only because she is unwilling to comply with respectability politics – the attempt to become socially acceptable in the eyes of the mainstream by adhering to its values instead of challenging them (White 4) – but also because she disrupts positionality, “the state of being positioned” (Williamson 36), in general. Moving unrestrained, uninhibited, Feyona is dancing in a world of her own, a feeling that is aided by the otherwise completely dark room, the music that ebbs away the moment she appears on screen and the fact that she does not attempt to gaze back in this moment. Attending to her own self-interest and “existing foremost in her own consciousness” (39), Feyona asserts a presence that disrupts constraint and does not solidify (36). She is showing up a choreomanic: shapeless, unknowable, unidentifiable in the distribution of the sensible, which is perhaps a way of saying that, how she sees herself claiming public space, is not in one way or another but in whatever way she pleases.


Fig. 28. Still from scene nineteen featuring Feyona Naluzzi. Screenshot.

            Before concluding the chapter, there is one important question left, and that is how we might understand this ‘becoming unrecognizable’ in the distribution of the sensible. In order to do so I would like to turn to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work about ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘the body without organs’, a term that has its origins in Antonin Artaud’s writing.
            The main difference between this scene and the rest of the documentary is that it is not at all concerned with exposing specific patriarchal constructs that it then dwells on, responds to, and refuses to comply with, but rather seems to be occupied first and foremost with a process of deterritorialization in which these constructs are from the start discarded entirely. The concept deterritorialization, as defined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), starts with the idea that a territory – which can be a system of any kind including social, affective, and linguistic (508) – allows and influences what bodies can do according to spoken or unspoken ‘codes’ and ‘overcodes’, referring to norms and laws. When a space is deterritorialized, which I argue is the case in this scene, the codes and overcodes are discarded and the territory loses its current organisation and context as the body politic falls into disrepair, entering a chaotic variety of movements, displaying temporary, illegible patterning. Looking through this lens of deterritorialization, what appears in this scene is a dancing body that shakes off the residue of certain codes – specifically those disciplinary practices that ‘produce’ the female body and the way it moves, acts, and looks – and becomes ‘decoded’ as it moves in choreic unruliness, a language that is unrecognizable to the distribution of the sensible.  
            Interestingly, Gilles Deleuze follows Antonin Artaud as he poses that the practices and constraints that keep everyone in the police order in their ‘proper’ place serve only the surface world or world of surfaces that is based on social appearances and nonsense words that somehow function (Logic of Sense 82). He argues that the only way to escape the discipline exerted on our bodies and achieve a state where the body is not heavily socialized or controlled, is through a process of deterritorialization in which this surface is rejected and one plunges into the depths instead, towards the flows and fluxes underneath, that “frail moving source forms never attain” (The Theatre and Its Double 7). At its most extreme, this process would lead to an entirely deterritorialized socius – with socius referring to the earth, the ruling body, capitalism (Anti-Oedipus 33) – creating, as its limit state or ultimate residue, a ‘body without organs’, a concept Deleuze and Guattari borrowed from the conclusion of Antonin Artaud’s final work, radio play To Have Done with the Judgement of God (1947). 
            The body without organs is thus obtained by stripping away all the practices that constrain bodies, including their clothes, filling and stratification (Harris “The-Body-Without-Organs”), until it becomes a raw product of destabilization and unruliness, “a surface on which repressed and uncontrollable desires flow without organization but with consistency” (Anti-Oedipus11). This, to both Antonin Artaud, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, is the only true escape from the devitalizing discipline exerted on our bodies and the only true set-up for the body to release its full potential “to express desires in a creative way, to be affected” (Harris “The-Body-Without-Organs”). In this process towards creative and affective disorganization, language as we know it has no place, and it is here that Artaud’s language without articulation comes into play. Seeking to transform words into action by making them incapable of decomposition and disintegration, the body without organs resists composed or articulated phonetic units (Anti-Oedipus 9) and only utters “howl-words” (Logic of Sense 88), such as cries, gasps and groans that replace all syllabic or literal values, creating a language that is illegible and unpronounceable, but to which a body without organs corresponds.  
            While the body without organs – it being a raw product of destabilization linked to, among others, the ‘drugged’ body as experimental state, the ‘masochistic’ body that attempts to stop its organs, and Antonin Artaud’s ‘schizo body’ that risks catatonia – is far too extreme to be a feasible endpoint to strive towards and moreover only truly exists in virtual reality[4], it does, however, have much potential in terms of thinking beyond the constraints that are put on our bodies by various systems.
            While becoming a true body without organs is not a feasible option, I do want to consider that what we witness in the scene at hand is a gesture towards it, a way of taking a position that is on the sliding scale from one organization (the surface world) into another (the world of depths). While practically everything we do and how we do it, is choreographed for us by various institutions, Feyona’s movements are choreic in their excess and angularity, giving the appearance of uncontrol, and as we watch the constraints of proper conduct collapse, language – Deleuze and Guattari’s nonsense words that somehow function – does too. Both when Feyona lays on her back, producing high-pitched, muffled sounds, and when she’s growling on all fours, all “literal, syllabic, and phonetic values have been replaced by [those] exclusively tonic and not written” (Logic of Sense 88). Gesturing towards the howling body without organs that speaks a language without articulation (89), in this moment it is not about the communication of specific words, but rather about dismantling the conventional, constrained self by giving to body over to dance and affect, “transforming the painful passion of the body into a powerful action in the depths beneath the fissured surface” (Deleuze, Logic of Sense 88).
            To conclude, while the previous chapters have shown how adapt JUCK [THRUST] is at laying bare the patriarchal structures that still impact women’s lives and finding ways to embody refusing them, we now witness a moment beyond this rather direct critique. By moving in not only socially unacceptable but even socially incomprehensible ways, a movement of deterritorialization is provoked, unearthing that which was sedimented, “the choreographies that implicitly enable the smooth and efficient functioning of social and political life” (Gotman xiv). The way Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari see it, deterritorialization comes with simultaneous reterritorialization, meaning that this process gives rise to new patterns and new orderings of bodies, transforming the territory to make way for other possibilities. While the documentary leaves the outcome of this process open-ended for now, it is clear that it, at the very least, must involve a way for women to expand into the spaces they are in, in whatever way they might want to. As Antonin Artaud wrote in the final paragraph to his final work: “delivered from all automatic reactions and restored to true freedom, [the body without organs] dances [the] wrong side out … and this wrong side out will be [her] real place” (Selected Writings, 571).

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