Friday, 25 April 2008

'Leaving' ensures that we are forever in the company of strangers ...

The Mythology of Leaving

I am currently examining the makeup and characteristics of departure or leaving a conversation or meeting in the street. So far in this project I have begun to explore philosophical (some may say ‘real’) theories dealing with notions of ‘becoming’ and change (H. Bergson, B. Massumi and L. Lye) and latterly, ways in which our meetings with people may be governed by the inexorability of departures underpinning our lives. Perhaps I am promulgating a myth here. The mythology of ‘Leaving’ as an event in itself, which continually draws us away through a changing field from one apparently settled point of fixture to the next. Meetings with others, I see as points of purchase in the torrent of change in which we are immersed.

To develop a clearer understanding of the phase of ‘leaving’ it seems to me important to investigate what makes up the other phases of the process of connecting with someone: Arrival and maintenance of the meeting. To do this we can consider the modes of speech employed in the meeting, with content covered in books like the one mentioned in my last post, The ART OF SPEAKING Made Simple, Gondin, R. Ph D and Mammen, W. Ph D. W.H. Allen London 1967 or more contemporary publications on how to converse and ‘hold a conversation. However there are more subtle forces at work here than cultural codes of politeness, good manners, when and how to use inflection and appropriate, clear, well enunciated speech in public places.


‘Rudimentary engagements, communication at its most basic, the prototype of all human interaction …’ such are the descriptors for the term, ‘Protoconversation’ in Daniel Goleman`s, Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships, Bantam Books 2007 (p.36).

The term relates to the early neural signals which expand into methods for establishing a rapport that we experienced as babies, making our first communicative forays into the outside world through the medium of our mothers. In fact, the term goes further back than this, describing those aspects of the mother and foetus relationship which concern their shared, internal conversations – micro dialogues managed osmotically in response to everything from the mother rolling over at night (who disturbed whom?) to the growing baby`s response to external sounds like human voices or laughter.

These intimate interactions between mother and child, whether pre or post birth are largely non-verbal, usually resorting to words for their sound values, rather than literal meanings. The greater part of the communication is carried out through touch, gaze and tone of voice. According to Goleman, the sounds emitted by the mother (usually quite high in pitch, technically, around 300hertz) deploy prosody, melodic overtones of speech that transcend culture, making it irrelevant whether the sounds are made from a Spanish or Mandarin, English or Urdu basis.

Often a synchrony of rhythmic motion, touch, gaze, sound and breath, a coordination of hand movements and facial expressions will establish a mutual rapport between mother and child. Such conversations are more often than not very short in duration – even only seconds in length and they end when both parties arrive at matched states, typically, affectionate ones. So we have a synchronized duet culminating in a mutually-agreed place of temporary departure. Goleman cites the developmental psychologist and the world`s leading specialist in protoconversation at the University of Edinburgh, Colwyn Trevarthen. Trevarthen describes the findings from his scientific studies (made painstakingly through the analysis of many hours of videotaped footage) as duets where both performers, “seek harmony and counterpoint on one beat to create a melody”.

Protoconversations have a certain elasticity in meaning and application. Not only does it refer to the very earliest development of our powers of communication (mostly non-verbal), where it could be said that the baby is undergoing a kind of tutorial in successful interaction, but we can also extend this to a more mature development occuring in the daily interactions we experience as adults (the tutorial goes on).

In adulthood, protoconversations remain as our most fundamental template for mapping, matching or missing in meetings with others. The template is tacit, a subtle awareness through feeling and the senses which allows us when we meet to quietly proceed, in step, with a stranger or acquaintance, friend or family member. Protoconversation is a silent dialogue – Goleman uses the term, ‘substrate’ (p.37) upon which all encounters or engagements are built. Goleman assures us that it is, ‘… the hidden agenda in every interaction’. (p.37). I would tend to say rather than ‘agenda’, that protoconversations are the underlying adhesive which allows us to empathize or literally in the case of CI dance, to come together in ways which are meaningful – without a word being said.

So protoconversation is for all of us, a support system. A silent go-between if you will, which underpins and as a mode of communicating, often outlasts (those comfortable – or uncomfortable silences) the manifestation of speech.

Clearly, for those of us who are Contact Improvisation (CI) dancers, there are some alignments to be pursued here. Without being glib, one could say that the earliest engagements through protoconversations are examples of contact improvisation. In CI dance, speech is seldom used (but can be), music is not employed as a score to be followed or ‘danced to’ although sound is used as a collaborative medium, group ‘discussions’ are frequently explored in CI dance but more often than not as a kinesthetically based dialogue, the CI dance is realised as a duet between two people. One could extend this to say that the duet is a neurokinetic conversation supported by mutual empathy - and curiosity about the path ahead. Attention, albeit one that fluctuates, is paid to the task of listening to one`s partner, in the moment, using protoconversation tools: When ‘conversing’ in the duet, listening - paying attention through touch to the tone or tenor of the connection with the other person, the unspoken, fleetingly glimpsed under-dialogue of the-moment-in-change is not only paramount if the duet is to last, but it also allows us to gather information about what is occuring in front of us on Goleman`s ‘substrate’ level.

So what occurs when the duet finishes? Why do people walk away? What cues are there to warn of impending closure? In CI, as in a spoken conversation between two people, sometimes one person leaves; sometimes there is a tacit, unspoken moment when both parties recogize that a point of stasis has been reached and closure is imminent. This may be the result of a mismatch in listening, a change in mood, a point when there is a mutual recognition that both bodies have ‘had enough’. Sometimes the narrative which has been self-sustaining, evolving, fluctuating through pauses (which are not in themselves necessariliy inert) and bursts of intense movement, simply runs out of momentum and finds its own place to rest. The dancers are not only instigators of this but simultaneously, witnesses to it.

However the pathway unfolds, dancers tend to adopt a philosophical attitude toward the process of leaving the duet. For myself, there is rarely a sense of failure or of having done something ‘wrong’ when I close with a partner. The experience tends to be governed by the moments shared. The leaving is as much a part of the dance as the arrival and the ‘body’ of the dance itself.

In the wider context of the street, leaving frees us up for the next event in our lives. In a circle or ‘round robin’ (where everyone is free at any time, to select a partner of their choice from the circle) of CI dancers, after several dances you become adept at leaving, as you do at arriving in the next duet. For me, the first minutes of a duet are always redolent with that feeling of encountering something new – mapping hitherto uncharted territory. An open stance in body and mind is helpful, as is this stance when leaving which enables one to move away unscathed from past moments.

Is it possible that protoconversation tools and processes equip us also to leave a given connection they have so assiduously wrought? Or do we simply assume the mantle of autonomy without company? That there are other skillsets and strategies for this is beyond the scope of this project. Suffice it to say, I believe that ‘Leaving’ requires practice. My over-riding feeling is that we are swept on regardless, in a stream of change that we cannot prevent and only rarely, delay.

‘Leaving’ is a descriptor of this state which accompanies us so that departure itself becomes our companion. ‘Leaving’ ensures that we are forever in the company of strangers.


Sylvie Haisman said...

right now, I'm in a state of leaving, of hurrying, of needing to get on to the next thing...
so, just quickly: I feel somehow nourished by reading this post. hopeful. & grateful that you are doing this work. The term proto-conversation is new to me. i find it exciting, and also grounding, to have a new way of thinking about what happens in CI and indeed in other exchanges.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Sylvie, Thanks for your kind response. It is always very useful to recieve comments of all kinds, but it gives me hope to recieve this kind of feedback because it tells me that some people may empathise with and possess an understanding of my concepts and the feelings I instil into my work.

More than this, I appreciate the opportunity to share my enquiry and if my inquisitiveness can be aligned with that of someone else, then ... we have a conversation. I find this very affirming and exciting in itself. It is interesting to think of this blog as a virtual equivalent of what I am investigating on the street.

All responses are worthwhile; brief, protracted, cursory or in-depth, comments which are in agreement or those which may disagree. It is all a source of interest, indeed, wonder to me.

I am very pleased that you feel borne up by the thinking/feeling in this work. It could so easily be construed as a depressing or cynical perspective on life. It is not meant to be. However, people will bring their own perceptions to the work, whatever these may be and this is all good. I consider the whole notion of 'leaving' to be a conduit, a swipe-card if you will, into whatever awaits us so the event does not have to be negative.

However, I am very aware that some aspects of leaving a meeting in the world of the everyday (as opposed to the rarefied atmosphere of theorists) can have connotations which are nothing short of sublime and of major import to the individuals involved, so this must colour my research too.

I will be continuing rigorous research into the nature of 'conversation' and 'engagement' on the street with a focus this time, upon the minor chords in 'leaving'- the emotions that may be engendered by the experience. This will be the source for my next dance/film research in Wellington city this week - Duende.

I am looking forward to you being a part of this and experiencing first hand what you may bring to the meetings.

My intention is to work from a structured improvisation basis, to see what kinds of intimate/small-dance/protoconversations we may be able to employ through CI in the street and to begin to perceive how 'leaving' may be realized as a signature moment.

Thanks again, Sylvie

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Ima said...

This is gorgeous!