Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back to Essentialisms

I have been a little bothered about a conversation I had with an online friend about my previous post, "Shut up and dance? Really?" Basically, she felt that much of what I had written was unnecessary thinking on my part and that I had allowed it to come in the way of my letting go and dancing, in my path to finding bliss in dance. Besides a suspicion that she perhaps thought I was kind of playing up my gay identity in my writings, I have also been discomfited by a near-total refusal on her part to engage with the crux of the piece. Of course, if what I consider to be the crux of the piece did not come through in the writing, it is only me who is to blame. 

Don't get me wrong. She meant well. Very well, in fact. She genuinely felt that I was thinking too much and allowing that to come in the way of enjoying my dance, in reaching a self-forgetting abandon or bliss that I seem to have suggested I crave. I am touched by the concern. When I said, for the sake of argument, that perhaps I did not want to forget my self in dance, she pointed out to the hollowness of that argument by showing that I did indeed seem to desire it, by directing me to what I had written.

She was right. But the thinking, however unnecessary may it be in anyone's opinion, does not end there. It is not only a question of putting up roadblocks to one's experience of bliss in dance. It also includes the questions "what specific roadblocks?" "what specific dance?" I think it is a place of privelege to be able to prescribe abandoment of thought and processes of making sense of oneself as a general panacea for issues of self-identity. I now realize that what is at the core of the issues that I have discussed in that piece is not a subjective lamenting of my inability to transcend my self. It is, in fact, an attempt to recognize that this space -- Bharata Natyam's contemporary caste-class-gender matrix -- arrogantly calls for a relinquishing of a self that it does not care about, that it positions itself as a pseudo-spiritual space that suggests differences do not matter in way only hegemonic spaces and narratives can. 

Then the question is not so much whether I want this space for the sublimation of my self, but more about whether we should spend more time teasing out what various things we mean by words like bliss, self, etc., about the several layers of essentialisms that are mounted over these terms. And when someone speaks about being at loggerheads with a cultural practice one has engaged in, could we be more respectful than to call their thought process "unnecessary," even if it appears to be so from some haloed hall of privilege? 

Bharata Natyam's history, its texts, its relationship with issues of caste, class, religion, gender and sexuality are very much situated ones. They have definite loci of power. To construct it is as a spiritual space of great levelling of differences is also an exercise that is part of that same history. There is so much to be teased out, including the apparent contradiction in the fact that despite so much "unnecessary thinking," I continue to engage with the form. That engagement feels like a dance in itself.

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