The textualization of dance through inscribed language occurred much more luxuriously in the published discourse on dance in the Weimar Republic than in the various attempts at notation. Ausdruckstanz was such a mysterious and deeply stirring phenomenon in Germany that between 1919 and 1935 more writing on modern dance appeared in German than in any other language before or since. The dance (and gymnastic) bibliography from the period is enormous and suggests that, far from being an art that was beyond linguistic control, modern dance functioned as a great provocation to say something—in words. More precisely, the perception that modernity signified itself through dance seems to have inspired deeper excursions into language for explanations of a phenomenon that could create serious misunderstandings about the body as a sign of emancipation. Probably the fact that the overwhelming majority of modern dance bodies were female contributed much to the need for literate, rational explanations of the emancipatory impulse. Because of its very appreciation of the body's power to sustain aesthetic feeling (desire), this impulse always risked being perceived as a threat to the power of language, to sexual morality, and to the authority of institutions such as schools and the theatre to "contain" the body, yet it simultaneously affirmed the body's capacity for ecstasy.
Dance criticism as such, the attempt to articulate meanings for dance, suffered from peculiar limitations resulting from an abiding uncertainty about how to look at dance. The most detailed and accurate descriptions of the dances themselves remain buried in local newspaper reviews, in difficult-to-obtain journals, and in photographs and drawings, not in the books of the leading dance theorists nor in the statements of the dancers themselves. So much of the published discourse on dance focused on the intentions of dance and dancers and on the methods for achieving those inten-
tions that the actual performances and the relation between intention and realization were often overlooked. Dance theorists preferred describing general features of a dancer's personality or style over analyzing particular dances or concerts. They tended to present dance as an abstract category of art rather than a set of often contradictory practices, even within the same dancer; the latter approach might complicate the idealized image of dance the theoretical discourse attempted to construct. Both Fritz Böhme and Rudolf Laban consistently wrote about dance as if it were an image in their minds rather than a reality before their eyes, and many others obviously adopted this habit, as is evident from all the papers given at the dance congresses and even from the bulk of material published in such journals as Schrifttanz and Der Tanz . When intentions governed the value of dance, the distinction between theory and publicity became blurred, although this blurring probably did not bother the Weimar world as much as it does ours.
The main task of the theorists was to exalt the value of dance and to reveal a great power within the body that modern sensibilities had discovered—and few would deny that they succeeded grandly in fulfilling this task, considering the fantastic expansion of dance culture in the 1920s and the concurrent lack of analytical focus on performance in the published discourse. Much of this discourse assumed a polemical stance against shadowy and often reactionary defenders of prudery, ballet, the exhausted culture of the nineteenth century, and journalistic morality. At the same time, however, it did establish dance as a complex object of theorization, as a phenomenon requiring systematic categorization into genres, styles, forms, and techniques, even if the categories derived from intentions rather than performance realities. But the theoretical discourse evolved in a peculiar fashion. The major general dance histories of the era by Oskar Bie (1906) and Max von Boehn (1925) showed scarcely any interest in modernist challenges to their subject. Until 1920, the vast bulk of published discourse on the new currents in dance appeared in local newspapers and arts journals that today require considerable labor to excavate. Yet dance was by no means a negligible subject simply because it possessed no "voice" coming from an author who saw the art on a large or national scale. Indeed, the press, in the formative years of Ausdruckstanz (1910–1923) seemed positively eager for information about dance; the enormous amount of commentary from numerous cities quoted or reprinted in Adorée Villany's Tanz und Pseudo-Moral (1912) indicates the volume of writing on dancers and performances still buried in archives, assuming old copies still survive. Gabi Vettermann's brief investigation of dance reviews in Munich newspapers from 1906 to 1930 reveals a rich, hitherto unexplored source of information about dance.
The focus in dance research on the period 1928–1932 has created the misleading impression that this was the "exciting" period of Ausdruckstanz .
But this focus has resulted in large part because information about the earlier period is so difficult to access. Actually, the earlier period was no less exciting and in many ways was more mysterious because it was not yet the object of complicated institutional politics. Even people of the 1928–1932 era, with all their exaggerated brooding at the congresses about "crisis" and "stagnation" in dance culture, seemed to sense that something had been lost from those earlier years. Moreover, the history of Ausdruckstanz has been constructed and transmitted orally for the most part, from teacher to student, with most of the teachers left to tell the story having been students themselves in the 1928–1932 period. These oral histories concentrate, anecdotally, on biographies, on pedagogic methods, and on intentions and aspirations, not on performance realities; rarely do they offer a scholarly perspective that derives from detached curiosity about "what actually happened." After all, people who make history often misremember it, and, as Freud observed, the unconscious discloses itself only to those for whom it is other.
The press was for many years uncertain how to classify its discourse on dance. Was dance an art? A sport? A form of theatre? A social phenomenon? Because of this uncertainty, commentary on dance appeared in a wide range of journals with subjects including art, theatre, gymnastics, social reform, sexuality, body culture, Nacktkultur , education, film, music, and cultural overview. Journals devoted specifically to dance as an art did not appear until around 1920, with the Berlin-produced Der Tanz (1919), Illustrierte Tanz-Zeitung (1920), Konzert, Tanz und Presse (1920), Tanz und Welt (1922), Terpsichore (1923), and the Dresden-produced Mask und Palette—Illustrierte Zeitung für Theater, Tanz, Film (1920). But these all lasted only for a few issues and are now extremely difficult to procure. The gymnastic and body culture journals that began to proliferate after 1922 tended to enjoy much longer lives. Tanz und Gesellschaft (1926), out of Potsdam, Moderne Tanzkunst (1929–1931), out of Vienna, and Der Bewegungschor (1928), out of Hamburg, did not last long either, nor did Körperrythmus und Tanz (1929), edited by the Klamts in Berlin, which became Tanz und Gemeinschaft (1929–1930) before the Klamts launched Kontakt (1933–1934) with a National Socialist orientation. Even the Laban-oriented Schrifttanz (1928–1931), from Vienna, one of the outstanding modernist journals in Europe, could not survive the economic crisis. Singchor und Tanz (1928–1935), a movement choir journal out of Mannheim, and Gymnastik und Tanz (1926–1943), from Dresden, fared better, but Der Tanz (1927–1943), with its trade rather than scholarly focus, remained the most successful of the dance journals initiated in the Weimar era.
Yet all these journals accounted for only a tiny portion of the dance bibliography of the era. One of the appealing features of the journalistic discourse is precisely its inclination to treat dance not as a clearly defined spe-
cialization but as an ambiguous phenomenon that roamed across disciplines and could claim the interest of people with other modernist agendas. In this respect, the journalistic discourse represented dance as a power that integrated the aesthetically expressive body into a culture that already seemed overspecialized. Ola Alsen, in Elegante Welt, chattily reviewed dance concerts as if they were luxurious examples of elite fashion and pretexts for glamorous photographs. In Der künstlerische Tanz (1922), Werner Suhr, a Nacktkultur enthusiast, denounced such "trivialization" of dance, but for a young person at the time, dance could seem alluring because it offered both the masks of social mobility and the nakedness of "natural" beauty, and therefore offered a unique freedom.
Dance theory emerged out of journalism insofar as the major theorists shaped their voices as journalists rather than as scholars in academia (although important thinkers such as John Schikowski, Rudolf Lämmel, and Fritz Giese possessed doctorates). But dance as an art showed a curious capacity to undermine clear distinctions between journalistic and theoretical language. Paul Nikolaus (1894–1933), whose Tänzerinnen (1919) contains many valuable details about dancers of the wartime era, was a leading cabaret personality in Berlin. Werner Suhr (1900–?) began as a publicist for the Lebensreform movement before becoming an editor of Der Tanz (1927–1937); after World War II he published books on marketing strategy and salesmanship. Fred Hildenbrandt (1892–1940) was a Berlin newspaper reporter whose little books about Niddy Impekoven (1922) and Valeska Gert (1928) and picture album of female dancers, Tänzerinnen der Gegenwart (1933), indicated the extraordinary degree of instability female dancing could inflict on male desire. Leopold Wolfgang Rochowanski (1885–1961) was an ecstatic Viennese publicist for expressionist art and literature, friendly with the flamboyant Ernst Schertel and author of Nackte Inspirationen (1921); his Der Formwille der Zeit in der Angewandten Künste (1922) and Der tanzende Schwerpunkt (1923) and his contribution to the Berber-Droste Tänze des Lasters, des Grauens und der Ekstase (1922), associated dance movement with the most radical images in expressionist art. These few writers typified the hodgepodge of backgrounds that apparently qualified various persons to make pronouncements about dance.
The first major book on Ausdruckstanz was the enormously popular Der moderne Tanz, by Hans Brandenburg (1885–1968), which appeared in 1913, with subsequent, expanded editions in 1915, 1917, and 1921. It remains one of the finest books on modern dance ever published, and no other book produced during the era achieved its critical authority, even though, obviously, it did not examine most of the era's significant
achievements. The success of Brandenburg's book established the commercial value of the wave of dance books to follow and served as a model for representing modern dance as a historical force. Brandenburg, unlike Bie or Boehn, treated (in a few pages) the whole history of dance up to 1912 as but a prelude to the powerful, Dionysian achievements of the solo dancers who emerged just before World War I. He situated dance within a complex social context that had reached the conclusion that ecstatic experience of freedom depended on inner powers of the body, not on the materialistic accumulation of things. Yet the book's great achievement was its detailed, materialistic descriptions of dance performances.. He supplemented the text with numerous photographs and drawings, many by his wife (Dora Brandenburg-Polster), which further strengthened the perception of dance as a reality and established the necessity of vivid photographs for any book on dance. Dance was for him a reality that tested the authority of his perceptions and his capacity to articulate them. His most significant contribution as a dance theorist was to embed theory in performance, so that the aim of theory—to provide a systematic explanation of the body's modern, ecstatic potential—always emanated from material reality rather than a metaphysical ideal. But this example proved difficult for other theorists to emulate, with Laban being perhaps the most "metaphysical" of them all. At Ascona, Brandenburg wrote a kind of choric dance-drama, Der Sieg des Opfers (published in 1921), which Laban planned to produce in 1914, but the war prevented the project from happening. In the 1921 edition of Der moderne Tanz, Brandenburg aggressively favored Laban's ideas over those of Dalcroze yet still grounded critical intelligence in the reading of performance signs rather than the linguistic-diagrammatic signs and symbols of metaphysical idealism.
After 1921, Brandenburg never produced another book on dance. He resided in Munich, where he reviewed dance concerts for journals and newspapers, acted as adviser to the Münchener Tanzgruppe, participated in the dance congresses, and pushed for stronger theatricalization of dance art ("Zur Einführung!"). But he showed no inclination to expand his initial view of dance modernity to include the busy dance culture of the 1920s. Instead, he published literary studies of Schiller and Hölderlin (1924) and pursued a career as a novelist with In Jugend und Sonne (1917), Das Zimmer der Jugend (1920), Traumroman (1926), and Das Zaubernetz (1944). He achieved considerable success with Pankraz der Hirtenbub (1924), an idyllic tale of an alienated mountain boy's gradual integration into a skeptical village community. His sympathy for National Socialism apparently stemmed from the real condition of communal integration that both Naziism and theatre performance embodied. Dance absorbed him to the extent that it embodied a transformative historical force and always anticipated new forms of culture. At the conclusion of Der moderne Tanz, he remarked (236) that
"the 'modern dance' is already history; this book is the only one in which it will be inscribed and in which at the same time its broad material sense is recognized. . . . [T]he flowering of the solo dance, which constitutes [this history], that dance, although it reaches into the Dionysian communal feeling . . . is in spite of great talents which are still here and yet to come, apparently past; but it was perhaps just a late-blooming of a dying individualistic culture." The modern dance as he described it was "perhaps but a transition to a new social and super-social group and theatre art, whose realization calls us into a dawning era"—which, presumably, was not in reality either the Weimar Republic or the Third Reich.
Hans W. Fischer
Brandenburg was a friend of Hans W. Fischer, and for a couple of years (1920–1921) they worked together to support the ventures of the Münchener Tanzgruppe, based in Hamburg, where Fischer lived. Fischer (1876–1945) began his literary career with dramas about the mythic aura of technology, including Flieger (1913) and Der Motor (1919). Brandenburg regarded Fischer's epic poem Das Schwert (1920) as the finest piece of literature about the Great War. By 1920, Fischer was reviewing dance and theatre productions for the Neue Hamburger Zeitung , and Hamburger Kulturbilderbogen (1924) compiled his vivid descriptions of the lively dance and theatre culture in Hamburg during the early years of the republic. In Das Tanzbuch (1924) he organized his thinking about dance around abstract categories—folk dance, the female dancer, the absolute dance, the group dance, and so forth—rather than, as Brandenburg had done, around dance personalities. His thinking on the abstract level, however, was not especially original or insightful; his writing was much less verbose than Brandenburg's but also much less "demonic." Moreover, Das Tanzbuch , like his Hamburg book, contained no pictures (instead, he appended the scenarios for three of his "dance plays"). Thus, Fischer did not ground the idea of dance very deeply in the mechanics and materiality of specific performances or pieces.
His major strength as a critic lay in his skill at associating a distinct message with a dancer's personality and style of dancing, even if he did not analyze particular performances or contradictions within the style. For example: "Valeska Gert dances the world of the cabaret, the bar, the loft, the circus, and the operetta, in short, all the amusements of civilization, behind whose glowing arc-lamps menaces the desolate darkness of sordid streets . . . constructed with fantastic certainty of instinct and given with diabolical joy" (57). On Sent M'ahesa and Ruth St. Denis: "How far removed is her studied boredom from the exoticism of Ruth St. Denis! [St. Denis] does not exude the contrived aura of incense clouding an art studio,
but the fragrance of the jungle, the menagerie, and even the cabaret, with its mixed blood attractions—wildness, conjuring, insolence, captivation, intimidation, and a bit of the cheap bazaar" (45). Nikolaus and Suhr had already introduced this technique of ascribing meanings to personalities rather than to dances, but Fischer's literary skill surpassed theirs. His chief contribution to theory was to associate the voice of the spectator with a vivid, metaphorical language of meaning rather than with the analytical language that exposes the techniques used in making meaning.
But Fischer's hugely popular Körperschonheit und Körperkultur (1928), containing nearly 200 photographs, revealed a fundamental tension within him. He masterfully described numerous categories of sport and athletic activity in great technical detail and from the athlete's perspective without, however, describing the personalities of athletes, who consistently remained generic identities—the rower, the motorcyclist, the swimmer. But when, in the second half, he focused on categories of dance, he reverted to his convention of ascribing meaning to personalities rather than to dances or even dance techniques. Unlike the theoretical categories for sport, the theoretical categories for dance seemed empty of meaning in themselves, entirely dependent on personalities to bestow value on them. Some chapter-categories, such as those for folk dance and social dance, contained no discussion of personalities, but the curious, journalistic blandness of his writing in these sections perhaps inadvertently disclosed that these categories of dance did not produce distinctive personalities. The value of any category of dance derived from its power to reveal an interesting personality.
Fischer could describe well the personalities issuing from dance, but he lacked the temperament to describe differences in value between generic movement techniques and techniques unique to the dancer and performance. All along he sensed that abstract categories of dance possessed their own meanings, but he could not identify them persuasively. His literary inclinations perhaps dominated his perception: he saw the referent, not the sign; he saw what Gert signified, not how she signified; he saw what the dance evoked in his imagination, not the dance. Probably this affection for the imaginary urged him toward the mythic image of the body advanced by National Socialism. He upheld this image himself in Götter und Helden (1934), and in Lachendes Heimat (1933) he compiled wit and humor ascribed to the healthy disposition of an idealized Nordic race. With Menschenschönheit (1935), a large, luxurious production with nearly 400 illustrations, Fischer explored "the secret of beauty" in the human body, examining images of (mostly female) bodies from cultures and eras around the world in an effort to identify the abstract, generic, "natural" values of the "well-created body," which transcends all cultural difference. What made bodies beautiful, he concluded, was neither nature nor culture but will, the
conscious act of disciplining the body to fulfill the image of an ideal, of an imaginary identity. Though the ideal itself was subject to cultural relativism, the will was not—the will was relative only to personalities and therefore only to bodies, not to cultures. "The stronger the will to beauty is, the stronger it forms a [beautiful] manifestation" (72). In this sentence lies the limitation in Fischer's mode of theorizing: the will to manifest beauty becomes confused with the will to see the manifestation; the generic category of the will collapses the difference between sign and referent; though Fischer's assertion about the relation between will and beauty seems correct, his language does not.
Ernst Blass and Rainer Maria Rilke
Fischer's difficulties in theorizing meaning formation in dance and bodily expression perhaps explain the increasing tendency toward metaphysical idealism in German dance theory—the tendency, that is, to define the value of dance according to the intentions, or will, that created it. Ernst Blass devoted the first half of Das Wesen der neuen Tanzkunst (1921) to identifying the abstract categories defining the "being" of a new dance art; these included the marionette, the animal, breathing, and leaping. The new dance art achieved being as the power of breathing (as taught at Loheland) moved the body away from the lifelessly mechanistic precision of the marionette archetype to natural animality and then to the ecstatic hurling of the body into space. In the last part of the book, he very briefly described the personalities of four dancers (Wigman, Impekoven, Bara, Gert). Yet the strongest section of the book described a completely "imaginary jazz cabaret," a sort of short story in which a character named Madeleine Travers, "a genie of public dancing," performs a wild dance with a bear, a nude dance, and then an "incredible march," a "storm," a "titanic attack" (21–26). These imaginary dances, rather than those of real dancers, served to illustrate the abstract categories defining the new dance art. Certainly this approach suggested that dance was something more imagined than seen.
Yet Blass's theory of the new dance actually represented the self-conscious response not to dance itself but to theories of the body by two great poetic minds: Heinrich von Kleist and Rainer Maria Rilke (14). Kleist, in his disturbing essay-short story "Ueber dem Marionette Theater" (1807), had argued that the perfect, sublime movement of a body resulted from forces external to it—gravity and the manipulations of the invisible marionetteer. A dance achieved complete purity and perfection insofar as the dancer possessed no will—indeed, no consciousness. Will, as a manifestation of distorted self-perception, was the source of imperfect movements and actions. Rilke, in an essay on puppets written in 1914 and
published in 1921 as Puppen in collaboration with the figurine-maker Lotte Pritzel, sought to differentiate the doll or hand puppet from the Kleistian marionette. For Rilke, the marionette, a figure of fantasy, could awaken artistic imagination because of its potential for perfect movement. But the "soulless" doll was the object of a child's rather than an artist's imagination because it was incapable of perfect movement. It remained subordinate to the will of an unformed or ungrown body—the child's. The child grabbed and discarded the doll, squeezed, caressed, and neglected it, knowing that it possessed no serious value independent of its owner. The doll helped the child to grow by being an estranging and somewhat sinister image of a body without a will.
On the face of it, Rilke seemed to disagree with Kleist over the relation between will and the beauty of human movement, but he described the doll with such melancholy delicacy that he implied that the idea of "growing" a will, which enabled humans to achieve perfectability of their actions, was an illusion (cf. Lüders). For Blass, a "new dance art" detached the concept of will from the manifestation of perfectability: modern dance embodied a powerful will whose object was not perfection but movement, a "ceaseless" condition of becoming rather than a state of being implied by the notion of perfection. However, the evidence to support this theory came more from the imagination than from performance realities; apparently dance had yet to "become" what will (imagination) could make it.
The perception begins to emerge that the voice of dance theory was distinctly male; women appeared disinclined to publish books or even Rilkian essays that examined dance abstractly, as a philosophical, metaphysical, or cognitive problem. This perception intensified with Der Tanz als Kunstwerk (1919; 1923) by novelist Frank Thiess (1890–1977). Thiess classified abstract aesthetic principles by which a critical evaluation of dance as artwork was possible. These principles included movement, rhythm, line, color, music, costume, lighting, nudity, space, and decorative properties. These principles designated differences between dance and pantomime, between tragic and comic dance, and between "beautiful," "nonbeautiful" (grotesque), and "ugly" dances. In his rambling, excessively informal style of writing, Thiess made numerous valuable references to the performance styles (rather than performances) of various dancers (Kieselhausen, Hegesa, Bara, Johansson, von Derp) who remain too much in the shadows of dance history. He supplemented his text with twenty-four photos of solo female dancers. But despite categorizing dance art around aesthetic principles (rather than around personalities or generic dance forms), Thiess was
neither systematic nor deep enough for the categories. He continually introduced an aesthetic principle or device without explaining its inherent semantic or cognitive significance. Instead, he merely fell back on a rather conventional rhetoric of "harmony," "beauty," and "structure," for "the borders of the non-beautiful are much narrower for this art than for other arts" (102). He was at his best when illustrating a principle by reference to a dancer's style:
Ronny Johansson danced a grotesque in black and yellow. Perhaps the best of her dances, in any case, wonderfully instructive for those who want to see the immanent comedy in dance. For what was comic here? Did she make faces? Roll her eyes? Wiggle her ears? None of that. Her face had a quiet, cunning, lurking expression, as if she expected something pleasurable, but which she actually did not wish to invite. . . . She moved neither crookedly nor with bent legs, nor did she wear Turkish pantaloons and slippers or an otherwise ridiculous dress; instead, she wore a costume which in each and every line supported her movements . . . But her movements were of brain-burning choppiness, of such cunning, delighted attenuation, grotesquely angular and so splendidly mis-defined, tightened, and knotted by each other, that one begins to laugh without knowing why . . . startled by the terrible seriousness with which she constructs each attitude (74–75).
Although he insisted that "rhythmic movement and it alone is primary in dance" (45), Thiess did not describe bodily movement well (compared with decorative effects). His significant achievement in his book was to show how performance elements other than movement governed the power of dance to embody meaning. Thiess went on to publish many novels but not any more statements on dance; he articulated the perspective of a cosmopolitan spectator who brought to dance a set of general aesthetic principles dominated by ideals of beauty, ideals that became inadequate in relation to the complexities and ambiguities of Ausdruckstanz in the postwar years.
The presentation of dance as something more imagined than seen was by no means exclusive to theorists with literary inclinations. Fritz Giese (1890–1935) appeared to be a complete rationalist, boasting an impressive background in quantitative psychology, which he taught at the university in Halle. Though he published novels and literary sketches, including the bizarre Der Mond der Toinette (1920), he was in fact a stupefyingly productive scholar deeply preoccupied with how seemingly humble changes in the daily lives of individuals led to large-scale social transformations. Körperseele (1924) dealt with body culture generally, allowing Giese to shift freely from gymnastics to dance in his theory of bodily expressivity. He
derived his numerous categories for describing "body souls" from psychology, social science, and aesthetics, but his focus always remained on the techniques and attitudes that allowed everyone to appreciate the body as a sign of salvational power, without which a stifling of life occurred (149). Giese always thought in terms of types —types of body, types of personality, types of pedagogy, types of culture, types of dance—and although typological thinking was by no means a weakness, his statistically biased focus on average identity prevented him from examining very insightfully the ambiguities of performance realities. Only very occasionally did he refer to the work of dancers, and he did not analyze their dances: "I come to the last type in the spectrum [of dance types]—to the idea dance. In this zone we find only the most complete of all [dance] representatives. Here Wigman emerges—but always guided more expressively than intellectually; here one finds occasionally Sent M'ahesa, then Hedwig Nottebohm and Valeska Gert, with Laban" (181).
The 88 photographs in the book provided far stronger evidence of the body in performance than Giese's language. But Giese's aim was to analyze pervasive psychological or cognitive conditions defining perception of the body as an expressive sign; he wanted to explain how types of dance possessed inherent semantic value independent of the idiosyncracies associated with individual personalities. He therefore wrote copiously about types of dances. For example, in his rather convoluted discussion of nude dancing as a type, he remarked, as no one else ever did:
There is still one problem [with nude dancing]: namely the question of how a man should perform it. It is physiologically very difficult to handle and hard to make him carry [a dance] into complete nudity. But with that, his dance immediately loses the unerotic dimension [the asexual stage of objective pleasure], for each special concealment must only emphasize what it conceals [i.e., the penis—K. T.]. We know well that this situation will have little influence on the female spectator. Woman is total, never specially effected by observation of the strange. But the idea of the nude dance must still collapse, and one moves on to the question of whether the male body, from an aesthetic standpoint, may appear naked in a dance or satisfy aesthetically (174).
Though Giese's explanation of why male nude dancing was virtually nonexistent may seem hopelessly obscure, no one else showed the slightest inclination even to imagine such a category. Therein lay the chief advantage of cognitive categories: they established possibilities for dance culture that neither history nor performance had yet included. Moreover, the subordination of types and categories to a cognitive definition of the body permitted Giese to show, as so few other theorists dared to do, that the body of the dancer shaped the meaning of dance quite as much as movement, music, or scenic elements did.
However, an analytical system built around types invariably locates values in intentions rather than in performance realities, and in spite of the typologist's affection for average or aggregate identities, metaphysical idealism dominates perception: "The ideal always grows out of the ordinary" (142). The weakness of his method was perhaps most obvious in his discussion of the "androgynous dance" he associated with Clotilde von Derp, Alexander Sacharoff, Sent M'ahesa, Joachim von Seewitz, and Hedwig Nottebohm. Here he seemed completely uncertain of what these "male-female" bodies intended to represent by their dancing, and so he drifted into an absolutely abstract idea of the human body—an ideal "asexuality," a "neutrality" of being, a suprahuman "objectivization" of movement, a "bisexual romanticism" (180–181). Giese hesitated to make body type entirely responsible for this typological confusion, but his reluctance to analyze differences in the performances of the androgynous dancers left completely obscure the degree to which movement either neutralized the sexual identity of the dancer or manifested a bisexual desire of one sex to inhabit the other.
The reductivist economies of typologies may make the world accessible to everyone, but they wind up concealing differences behind the illusion of a total, unified system for assigning identities to the body. Consider, for example, the "shadows" section of Wigman's cycle Der Weg (1932). In this group piece, all the dancers wear white robes and hoods that completely conceal their bodies (Figure 68). Only spectators who knew that Wigman only used female dancers could tell for sure the sex of the performers. Otherwise the spectator would have to identify the sex of the dance or dancers from the movement. But what happens when an all-male or mixed-sex group performs the same movement in the same neutral costumes? Wigman seemed to suggest that only movement, not bodies, can transcend sexual difference. But for Giese, bodies always projected the force of a social type that imposed a unifying, social identity upon human movements. He published more body culture books—Weibliche Körperbildung (1922), Männliche Korperbildung (1924), Geist im Sport (1925), Girlkultur (1925)—that explained, in the typological method, how people could create a strong, healthy society by devoting modest portions of the day to the cultivation of their bodies through participation in exercise, sports, nudism, or bodily recreations. However, his own workaholic lifestyle led him to a premature demise.
Rudolf Lämmel, the father of Vera Skoronel, was a physicist with a professorial position in Dornburg. He published books on mass education (1923), the theory of relativity (1925), intelligence testing (1923), and "social physics" (1925) before serving on a state commission examining
dance schools for accreditation. His Der moderne Tanz (1928), an overview of "the new dance" for the years 1923 to 1927, was hardly comprehensive but nevertheless the most inclusive theoretical treatment of the subject after Brandenburg's book.
For Lämmel, the meaning and identity of dance derived above all from the specific educational background of the dancer, not from pervasive cultural or psychological pressures. He therefore devoted the first half of his book to teachers of pedagogical methods for developing bodily expressivity: Mensendieck, Dalcroze, Kallmeyer, Menzler, Wigman, Laban, Bode, Trümpy, and so forth. He described how these methods prepared bodies to explore "restless technical possibilities" of corporeal expressivity (67). Dance interested Lämmel to the extent that it moved beyond ehical, social, or hygienic problems and discovered hitherto unrecognized signifying powers of the body. Distinctive teachers struggled against stabilizing or even retarding cultural-historical forces to free the body from culturally conditioned fears of it. Thus, for him, the value of dance depended not so much on body type or movement in itself but on the body's relation to space, on its authority to define and establish its control over space through movement (68). Awareness of body-space relations depended almost entirely on teacher-student relations (rather than on dancer-spectator relations) and varied from teacher to teacher.
In the second half of the book, Lämmel examined the work of numerous dancer-teachers and the significance of such formal categories of dance as the movement choir, the revue, the social dance, the dance accompanied by noise, and dance in film. He mentioned all sorts of dancers about whom we would otherwise know nothing, including Helmi Nurk (Bremen), Anne Grünert (Duisburg), Karin Schneider (Graz), Olga Suschitzky (Vienna), Marion Herrmann (Oldenburg), Frances Metz (Munich), and Gertrud Volkenesen (Hamburg). The most detailed and valuable sections of the book described the works and teachings of Vera Skoronel and Berthe Trümpy. The implication was that pedagogic methods produced not types of dancers but distinct dance personalities and that a distinct personality resulted from a struggle to overcome methodological limitations and "through new creations prepare the path of further evolution" (144). Lämmel expanded the idea of "performance reality" to include what happened in the school-class studio, which he described much more effectively than concert performances. Still, he included a hundred pages of theatrical photographs that more than any other publication showed the glamorous presence of modern dance, as both an art and an education, throughout Germany. Lämmel, perhaps unable to resolve the problem of defining the space of dance, published nothing more on the subject and devoted himself to exploring the nature of scientific imagination, publishing books on
Galileo (1929), Newton (1957), race theory (1936), and "the modern scientific world image" (1932).
The theorist with the greatest presence in Weimar dance culture was probably Fritz Böhme (1881–1952). Of all the theorists, he disclosed the strongest attachment to metaphysical idealism. He studied literature and art history at the university in Berlin; he did free-lance journalism from 1902 until 1015, when he decided that dance was his compelling subject. He contributed dance criticism to several Berlin newspapers and periodicals, including Libelle (1918), a now extremely rare journal devoted entirely to dance. In 1919 he assumed the editorship of the feuilleton section of the Deutsche Allegemeine Zeitung (DAZ), and in this paper his dance reviews appeared almost daily for many years. During the Weimar era, Böhme was a driving force in the organization of dance associations, dance congresses, dance criticism, dance journals, dance education forums, and dance performance opportunities. His longer and more intellectual articles appeared in such heavyweight cultural journals as Die Tat, Ethos, and Der Scheinwerfer . Meanwhile, he personally amassed the largest library of writings on Weimar dance ever assembled. In 1933 he joined the Nazi Party, supposedly because he thought his influence would ameliorate the hostility the Nazis generally tended to project toward modern dance. His great ambition during the Third Reich was to establish a national academy of dance and a national archive for dance history, seeded by his own immense personal archive. The government procrastinated on the formation of the academy, and in 1943 a British air attack completely destroyed Böhme's great archive (Manuel, "Wegbereiter").
Böhme's most interesting writings on dance consisted of his innumerable reviews for the DAZ, but these remain very difficult to obtain; even the Böhme collection of the dance archive in Leipzig possesses only a limited selection of them. They exerted far less influence than his theoretical publications, yet until more of them surface, understanding of his thinking about dance will remain quite incomplete. Only in the reviews can one grasp his response to dance as a performance reality, for in his widely disseminated theoretical works he detached dance from performance more completely than any other theorist. As an object of theory, dance preoccupied him as a sign of dynamism (rather than stability) in the cultural-historical structure of societies. He liked to paint the big picture of the "situation" of dance and dancers for any given era, particularly his own. Dance was a dynamic historical force because it embodied an ideal, and therefore he analyzed dance ideals rather than dances, historical situations of dance
rather than dance performances, even though probably no one in Germany had seen more dance performances than he.
In "Materialien zu einer soziologischen Untersuchung des künstlerischen Tanzes" (Ethos 1, 1925–1926, 274–293), he introduced vague conditions for identifying the status of dance in terms of social structures, such as professionalization, choreography, affiliation with other arts. At the Magdeburg Congress in 1927, he discussed "the dancer of our time," asserting that the function of the dancer was to bring a powerful sense of "rhythm in being" to an era dominated by "mass organization and mechanization" without succumbing to the temptations of military drill and mechanized mobilization of the body (Die Tat, 19/8, November 1927, 580–588). In "Der Radius des Tanzkunstwerks" (Der Scheinwerfer, 11/12, March 1928, 14–15), he declared that dance art was above all "the expression of an era, the attempt through movement and gesture, to realize, along with sculpture, music, architecture, and literature, the lines of this our epoch." For Schrifttanz in 1928 he briefly explained, by reference to eighteenth-century contributions, how an era's efforts to notate its dance art signified the "final crowning" of its achievements in dance (VP 30–32). In Kontakt (1/3, September 1933, 33–40), he suggested, with help from language of the Führer himself, that the "ecstatic moment" of a "new German dance art" arises out of the "rhythm of [the dancer's] blood, out of the breath of his race," and in a 1936 essay, after politely proposing that the difference between folk dance and art dance did not entail an ideological conflict, he concluded that the "social responsibility of the dancer in the present" involved immersion in "the National Socialist movement and the honorable and passionate surrender to the work of our leader Adolf Hitler" (MS 123–125).
Perhaps Böhme's most substantial publication was Tanzkunst (1926). Here he covered almost every aspect of dance art since its mysterious origins—without, however, analyzing a single dance. The language of the book always remained focused on "the meaning of the situation" associated with untested categories of dance. For example: "Ecstatic dance cannot advance to artistic refinement, but only to a natural, organically grown expression. It lacks the conscious will to form of an artist, lacks the conscious and cool affinity for material laws, the sense of material limits, which is necessary to contour forms and artistic expression. The spirit of ecstasy is latent and objectified will in the artwork" (59). However, the truth of this assertion depends on analysis or, at least, an example of something designated as ecstatic dance. Tanzkunst consisted almost entirely of language in this aphoristic style, making no concessions at all to the materiality of performance itself except for the twenty-four photographs that decorated the book. Although the book today makes rather dull reading, the Weimar dance culture appreciated it precisely because it treated every abstract category of
dance (ecstatic dance, ballet, movement choir, folk dance, nude dance, and so forth) as a dynamic historical force in itself, independent of performance realities and therefore defined by intentions and ideals. These, Böhme knew through long experience as a newspaper reviewer, conflicted with the intensely material but ephemeral "historical situation" of specific bodies moving in specific ways in specific spaces at specific times. He did not describe the pleasures of dances; he described his anticipation of "the dance" as something yet to come.
Critiques of German Critical Writing
With dance theory continually drifting toward metaphysical idealism, it was not surprising that dance criticism, responses to dances themselves, unfolded informally and abundantly in a highly idiosyncratic, fragmented fashion from a multitude of perspectives. Taken together, this body of criticism implied that, contrary to much of the theorizing, the value of dance, as a performance reality, was quite relative and that dance had little power to unify either perception or the language used to articulate its value. Laban probably assumed that the development of an accurate dance notation system would have the effect of getting people to see dance more acutely and uniformly, but this possibility soon proved an illusion.
At the 1927 Magdeburg Congress, Hans W. Fischer spoke on the theme of dance criticism. He observed that dance criticism was no longer "completely dilettantish," despite the proliferation of "pseudo-critical" dance picture books distracting the public from a deeper level of discourse. He focused less on principles of dance criticism than on the qualifications of the dance critic, who could not shift from opera, theatre, or ballet reviewing as easily as editors seemed to think. "One must be born to dance criticism," he asserted, and the born critic viewed art as an "eternally new beginning." This value remained obscure when dogmatic principles and distinctions prevented, for example, the critic from appreciating Wigman's use of a cabaret device in an otherwise somber dance or from regarding social dance forms as seriously as ballet, which Fischer believed "no longer has a future." Stable critical principles could not accommodate the dynamism of modern dance culture. Already, critical language had become banalized by the misuse of such words as "absolute" and "cultic." The critic must bring to dance an "instinct" for "eruptions" or "blossomings": "One can not push the borders far enough, raise the challenge high enough, or fix the responsibility strictly enough. Because in the field of dance, so much is in flux, so much still unclarified and controversial" (Die Tat, 19/8, November 1927, 591–596). Alfred Bratsch adopted a more cynical tone in a 1931 article on dance criticism for Schrifttanz, stating that most dance criticism served journalistic objectives before it served the
needs of dance, and he accused dancers of perpetuating journalistic standards by their willingness to confuse criticism with publicity. Moreover, he did not think critics who were close to the dance establishment produced superior criticism: "Just those 'non-dancing' artistic people whom we may say really ought to be rejected as critics could be allotted an important task because their judgment is not yet corrupted by close familiarity" (VP 77–79). However, in the increasingly crowded and competitive dance community itself, leading representatives devoted more energy to establishing standards for school accreditation than to raising the level of performance criticism; yet without a theory of performance values, standards for accreditation would continue to rest upon idealistic rhetoric defined by nebulous intentions rather than measurable results.
The most powerful, detailed examination of any dance during the era surely was psychologist Hans Prinzhorn's negative review of Wigman's Totenmal in 1930 for Der Ring, a right-wing journal of cultural-political analysis that otherwise paid no attention to dance. Prinzhorn, who was actually a close friend of Wigman, analyzed numerous performance elements in the piece—movement, costume, music, lighting, text, scenography, choreography—and contemplated their significance in relation to Wigman's artistic-ideological intentions, which he regarded as defective and incapable of provoking the intensity of feeling the creators expected of the spectator ("Grundsätzliches"). But dance and performance analyses of this magnitude or intensity did not often appear, even in the dance journals. For that matter, no published review of a German dance book ever achieved a magnitude comparable to that of Frits Lapidoth's enormously detailed review of J.W.F. Weremeus Buning's De Wereld van den dans (1922) in the Dutch theatre journal Het Tooneel (9/4, September 1923, 51–57). Nor was any German monograph on a dancer as precise in describing its subject's dances and their meanings as Joe Jencik's 1930 book on Anita Berber, published in Czech. Moreover, Jencik's Tanecnik a snobove (Dance and Snobbery, 1931) offered a much more scintillating and persuasive analysis of the psychosocial and historical pressures defining dance as an art than the German theorists ever did; even if he did not analyze many dances, he nevertheless showed how movements of the dancing body in its diverse manifestations exposed class distinctions and estrangements from normative attitudes toward bodily expressivity in different social contexts. But Jencik (1893–1945) lived extensively in the world of theatrical performance, dancing and choreographing ambitious modernist productions for the National Theatre in Prague, appearing in films, leading a jazz revue group (the Jencik Girls), collaborating with the cabaret duo of Voskovic and Werich, and staging plays (Narodni divadlo, 192–193; ES 245–249). Still, he managed to publish several theoretical-historical articles for Divadlo, the leading Czech theatre journal, as well as some autobiographi-
cal novels, including the eerily beautiful Omyl Mea Mara Indry (1944), about the ambiguous sexual identity of a dancer. In other words, Jencik did not accept a concealed class distinction between the bodily world of performance and the intellectual world of criticism and theory. He traveled freely between both worlds, untempted by the redemptive claims of metaphysical idealism.
It would seem, from all the fog enshrouding the domain of theory, that dance possessed considerable power to challenge the authority of conventional scholarly and critical language. Perhaps Blass was right: to articulate accurately one's responses to dance, one should turn to the language of poetic imagination and value dance by its power to awaken such language. Not surprisingly, the metaphorical image of the dancer appeared frequently in the poetry of the era, most recklessly, perhaps, in Curt Corrinth's ecstatic prose-poem Potsdamer Platz (1919) (cf. W. Roth). But aside from these often stirring metaphorical images and the somewhat vapid odes to dancers such as Niddy Impekoven, Grete Wiesenthal, and Lili Green, the most imaginative use of literary language to reveal dance appeared in the Berber-Drost Tänze des Lasters, des Grauens und der Ekstase (1922) (see Chapter 6 herein).
Another interesting figure, Alfred Richard Meyer (1882–1956), cultivated the life of an aesthete-connoisseur in Berlin, publishing exquisite, rare editions of his own poems, beginning with Vicky in 1902. In 1910 he began to publish many of his writings under the name and persona of Munkepunke, a dandyish, cosmopolitan fellow who constantly indulged in witty word games. Meyer-Munkepunke drifted into the turbulent orbit of expressionism, producing, as was the habit of the expressionists, a great abundance of poems in a multitude of small editions, as well as a little book about charlotte Bara (1921). After 1933 he became an officer of the Nazi Chamber of National Literature; when the war ended, he devoted himself to translations of literary works (Raabe 329–337; Josch). As Meyer-Munkepunke, he published several poems about dancing and dancers, which he collected in Tanzplakette (1913) and Grit Hegesa (1920). Tanzplakette satirically equated individual poems with different social dances or with "posters" for dancing, such as "Tango," "Foxtrot," "Maxie," "Voo-Doo," and so forth: "The new dance, the pouch dance of the kangaroo." A curious feature of the poems was that Meyer kept the right side of the margin even instead of the left. For example, in these lines from "Foxtrott":
I trot, you trot, we trot.
You trot before me, I trot after you.
Two bodies are exactly determined to become one.
But a wall of space always keeps us separate.
We stamp, heavy falling hammer blow, clap-clap the beat of the melody
(Meyer, Grosse Munkepunke , 107).
The effect is of words piling into a "wall of space" from uneven starting points instead of "flowing" from an even starting point. Thus, with these poems, Meyer indicated the power of dance to subvert the conventional order and rhythms of poetic language. In Grit Hegesa , the disturbance of linguistic order was much more radical, as Meyer inscribed his responses to Hegesa's Groteske and Der Samurai:
High over Tohuwabohu of a thousand street organs
Suddenly a green floating boat,
Somehow an even-membered triangle:
Black pompon, pompon, pompon.
Pythagoras, Pythagoras, how do you do it!
a2 +b2 —must have a circle first—to be able to fly
Wild street organing over me and in me with all rainbow colors.
"Meyer, you will never in this life get beyond fourth grade!"
Said my mathematics teacher Frank sourly: "Once more: a2 +b2 "
A momang! I won't prick you, you meadow green girl!
You black point—o holy Archimedes!
I place myself on it and raise this earth off its angles.
Jaap Kool, organ your heavenly festival a little more!
Corn in the chimes. I shoot. Myself.
Here Hegesa's grotesque dance inspires a vision in which both linguistic and natural order become subverted, as the dancing body urges the poet to imagine principles of grammar, poetic "rhythm," mathematics, physics, geometry, acoustics, time, and perception itself colliding—or perhaps "dancing"—in a wildly delighted manner.
Paul Van Ostaijen
The deepest, most radical, and most ecstatic language provoked by German modern dance came not from a German but from a Flemish poet, Paul Van Ostaijen (1896–1928), an intellect of great, captivating brilliance. He was an intensely cosmopolitan figure who had an almost unsurpassed knowledge of modernist movements (expressionism, futurism, surrealism) in a wide range of European arts (literature, painting, film, theatre, dance, music). In his first volume of poems, Music Hall (1916), he indicated that the rhythm of modernity achieved its ripest expression not through technology (as the futurists believed) but through a complex multiplicity of sensations that fragmented the identity of the modern body. Life was modern
to the extent that it was a collage of competing rhythms, moods, and fragments of images. In subsequent works, he accommodated the presence of machines by appropriating printing technology, the resources of typography, to "materialize the word" and construct more radical manifestations of collage. He suspended words in the white space of the page; he alternated rhythms of phrases by varying spaces between words and by making idiosyncratic use of italics and boldface. He "enlarged" words by capitalizing them and used different typefaces to create new "images" for words. Stabilizing margins disappeared; quoted language from a variety of sources (newspapers, advertisements, neon signs, popular songs, foreign languages) abounded. Words appeared on the page in "columns," "clusters," or "planes," and it is sometimes quite difficult to know the order in which to read them.
All these devices of collage construction encouraged the perception that modern identity entailed a shattering of syntactic unity and the logic associated with understanding signs. This materialization of the word, this physicalization of the signifier, gave "body" to the word and freed it from having to depend on its referent to achieve any expressive power. The collage strategy allowed the poem to signify the presence of many disparate voices within one body, that of the poet or reader. The introduction of nonlinear, simultaneous pressures on the perception of the reader developed the idea that the body contained "other" voices. Otherness was not external to the body but inside it. Modern poetic language fragmented the body of the reader by representing the fragmented body of the poet/speaker. What made a body modern was its capacity to appear as a collage of other voices within itself. But in pursuing this strategy, Van Ostaijen actually detached poetic language from the body in that these poems were unspeakable; he constructed a radical difference between the spoken and the written word. It is extremely difficult to translate accurately the complex range of visual signs defining the texts. Moreover, Van Ostaijen stressed the contradictory status of the voice of the modern body by titling a number of word-collages "songs" or "tunes." Writing remained music, projected a voice, even when nobody could speak it. Yet Van Ostaijen never drifted into the nonsense language or purely sonic poetry explored by the futurists or dadaists: he always gave primacy to words, semantically decipherable units, but expanded their meanings by portraying them as icons, dynamic forms, bodies in movement. In 1925 he gave a memorable lecture in Brussels on "operating instructions for poetry," asserting that the expression of ecstasy is the dominant aim of "lyrical emotion"; poetry achieves this aim when the "transcendent word" is no longer reducible to either its sound or sense but has become an "organism" that lives independently of both the conscious and unconscious desires that use it (Verzameld Werk II , 369–379).
Between 1919 and 1921, Van Ostaijen wrote several poems that introduced especially intriguing relations between dance and writing. During the years 1918 to 1920 he lived rather marginally in Berlin, where the revolutionary implications of modernist art became apparent to him and where he experienced his first serious encounters with modern dance. He composed "Gnome Dance" (Gnomendans) in Berlin in 1919, but the piece, which he produced in both Dutch and German versions, did not appear in print until 1934 (VW II , 157–159; 255–258). Compared with later poems it was fairly conventional, with a stable left margin and no startling typographic effects other than an absence of punctuation. Yet it is strange all the same. The poem describes the "dance" of celestial lights during the "night adagio of the erotic." Here the concept of collage operates through a tension between the complex, alliterative (though unrhymed) "gnomic" rhythms ("Kreuze kreuzen Kreisen wirbeln") connecting words and the fantastic images ("Waltz of the Earth's orbit waltz of the global spheres") evoked by the words. The poem inscribes a monumental, indeed cosmic, vision of the night sky ("lights dance in shards") moving in response to erotic impulses. Glowworms and "millions of kissing stars" create a great "cage" in which a multitude of beings of "humid" and "yellow-green lights . . . fall." The poem is three-fourths over before the reader discovers that the voice of the body that "speaks" belongs to that of "we gnomes," whose "sperm is violet." The "dance" of the gnomes consists of "always falling" bodies within an ever-expanding "cage." This falling into oblivion provokes an orgasmic exhilaration. Thus, dance becomes the ambiguous sign of both the body's freedom and its fall from the stars. Dance signifies the cosmic movement of erotic desire from celestial heights to "gnomic" depths.
In Antwerp in 1920, Van Ostaijen assembled a collection of poems under the title Feesten van pijn en angst (Feasts of Fear and Agony , 1976). This project required printing technology to reproduce his own handwriting of the poems. He wrote words in different sizes and at different angles. His handwriting changed from poem to poem, with the pressure of the pen bolder or softer, but not necessarily in relation to the mood of the poem. Furthermore, he wanted to vary the "color" of words by varying the color of ink used to print them. Word colors would change from poem to poem, but each poem would present a complex of different-colored words. Printing technology, however, was not sufficiently advanced to accommodate these demands, and Van Ostaijen was never able to produce a desired version of the text. For him it was handwriting, rather than the voice, that disclosed the most naked relation between language and the body.
Three poems in this collection contained unique perceptions of dance. The longest poem, "The March of the Hot Summer," employed a spectacular range of typographic and orthographic devices to make words "dance." The poem is stupefyingly complicated in its formal organization and
deployment of violent, even shocking, erotic imagery (menstruation, masturbation, sadomasochism, exhibitionism, mass orgasm). I merely indicate here that, for the poet, words "danced" when they appeared on the page as if they were simultaneously falling into a great space yet marching toward the reader. Written words "move" erotically like the bodies to which they refer because they look like organisms, spermatozoa, trembling in the hot white space of the page. It is in just such a spewed, fragmented fashion that language exists inside the body.
"Barbaric Dance" is equally perverse. The first part of the poem describes the reptilian dance of a woman from the perspective of "the desirous body," a male spectator or possibly partner, who exhorts her to "make your gender dance," for in dancing she dispels "dream and death," "Snakes and Doves together." In the second part, however, the voice of the poem shifts to that of the dancer herself—"me who partners him who observes"—the dancer speaks while she dances. That is, she says what her dance doesn't say: "WATCH the thinking of my feet." She speaks thoughts and feelings that no one can see in either her dance or her body, and "according to the law which is and does not speak/this is being."
Over the white shivering of my arms
For this reason—"my body is to itself a light and a darkness"—she observes:
Yet in the third part, she claims: "I am happy . . . So very solitary in my dancing I am not lonely." "Naked warm and fresh," she plunges a dagger between her breasts, and the implication is that words are like daggers in their power to penetrate the body. She dies "because my dance is dying," and dance dies when the spectatorial "partner" manages to "enter" the body of the dancer, get "inside" it, and read in it signs hidden from the other by the dance itself. The dancer obviously welcomes this penetration, but what is more significant is that the poem as a whole suggests that language is both in and other than the body. Here the idea of collage develops around a seemingly simpler strategy: poetic language constructs the subjectivities defining distinct bodies (male spectator and female dancer), which actually inhabit a single, divided body, that of the poet or the reader. Dance is the provocation for this inscribed collage of subjectivities and signifies depths of desire because of its power to provoke "barbaric," violently erotic, and obviously bisexual tensions between subjectivities that lie deep within the
body and are visible only through the inscribed, "organic" word (VW II; Feasts, 25–31).
When the word calls attention to itself—when, freed of syntactic laws, the "body" of the word becomes visible—the body of the writer or reader becomes fragmented. In the final poem of the collection, "Fear, A Dance," the poet remarks, "All becoming is being undone/in the All-Being Word." When the being of the word manifests itself, through its iconic properties, the being of the speaker becomes "undone," fragmented, shattered. For this reason the word is a source of anxiety, a great fear. Words that have life, intense physicality, "bodies," are also intimations of death. In this poem, the poet impersonates the voice of a dancer who is himself, dancing the "dance of the self." But the objective of the poem is to treat a specific emotion (fear) as a dance "performed" by words. Dance and language are "within" each other:
To dance is
to be full-bellied
of the seed
of the word
While bodies which
are dancing away
are dancing WORD-ward
are now reality of undone things.
Dance, then, emerges as an explosive sign of fear of the "Incarnate LOGOS"; "my dancing body" objectifies "my for fear of the word fearful body." More precisely, fear of the word is fear of the body, fear of erotic desires, the erotic "FLAME," which gives "life" to all objects yet makes them "fall." The freedom of the modern identity depends on a modernist freeing of the word. This freedom is ecstatic insofar as it is the modernist dancing/writing of fear that frees the modern identity from fear of the word, the body, death. Freedom from fear thus becomes the "final" sign of the modern identity (VW II; Feasts, 69–76).
In Bezette stad (Occupied City, 1921), ostensibly an image of Antwerp life during the German occupation, Van Ostaijen published other wild poems about dance written in Berlin. But his message was already clear. Most practitioners of modern dance perceived dance as a condition of freeing the body from constraints imposed upon it by language, by oppressive communication codes. Dance was movement away from language (e.g., Baxmann). Van Ostaijen, however, perceived dance as movement toward the "free" word, toward an emancipatory language that was not "other" than the body but deep inside it. No one in Germany recognized so clearly the capacity of
dance to undermine the stability of language and thus the stability of differences between dancer and spectator, male and female, word and body. And though his poems did not describe "real" dances, no one in Germany acknowledged so well what Blass had only intimated: that dance, as a manifestation of bisexuality, required a radical theoretical perspective on the meaning of the body in which critical and poetic language were embedded in each other.