Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Indeterminacy and the roaming body; Leaving – ‘a non-present potential to vary’ - moving away from points of purchase.

‘The best of conversations must end. Start to go before the other fellow takes out his watch, don`t dawdle over the coats and avoid starting conversations at the door. Pay your respects briefly and go. Ending a conversation is also a way of keeping one going … ' The ART OF SPEAKING Made Simple, William R. Gondin, Ph.D and Edward W. Mammen, Ph.D. Made Simple Books, W.H. Allen London, 1967

The above extract hails from a text introducing the art of making conversation in the 1960s. Has the art changed? The notion of ‘leaving’ I believe, is timeless.

The forward by James Dodding for this book informs us that, ‘Speech is the most important means of communication people have with one another and it is essential to be able to use it fluently, effectively and with confidence. It is equally essential, both professionally and socially, to know what is appropriate to the occasion – what to say, when to say it and how to say it.’

Undeniably, speech is central to the fluidity of our existence in the human world in everyday life. Not only does speech aid our functioning effectively in social situations and locates us in time and given space, but more candidly, the ability to converse and to be heard affirms, empowers and expands the map of the human heart. Speech comprises much of the articulation of this and that of our wider socio-contextual map - much, but not all. The unwritten text in the above quotation; the hidden message which is about when and how to leave an engagement is articulated through speech-prompts but also through body language, fluctuating heart rate and eye blinking - an underlying empathetic cue to move on with this decision coming from a somatic place ‘of ‘ and in the body – a place contextualized by a proxemic* imperative and a place from which, in a manner of speaking (no pun intended) we have already departed.

In Tricks of the Mind, Channel 4 Books 2007, by Derren Brown, under the section on ‘Targeted Rapport’ p.186 Brown writes, ‘ Most people when they are getting on well, will be in a state of unconscious ‘rapport’. They will tend to mirror each other`s body language and so on without realizing it …’ At the same time, ‘… there is the odd sensation we have all experienced (though we never think to mention it) of knowing when the other person is about to get up and leave. Suddenly there is something in the air, a moment or a shift and then you know the other person is about to say they should ‘make a move’. And if they don`t you have that feeling that they are outstaying their welcome’. The level of unconscious rapport experienced up to that moment, particularly if the conversation has lasted for some time, is responsible for the sharing of mutual thought and body patterns so that together you can sense when the time to leave has arrived.

Brown maintains that studies carried out on rapport have shown an array of mirrored behaviours that are not merely body positioning but something far more subtle.

It has been established that people in rapport with one another tend to breathe at the same rate, adopt similar facial expressions, blink at the same rate and use one another`s language. I would tend to describe these responses as somatically based. In other words they are products of a non-spoken, internal discourse that the body carries out continually (using one another`s language is still instigated by a bodily response to a stimulus). A hidden dialogue with the externally projected speech and vision through which we are more overtly governed.

In Social Intelligence, Bantam Dell 2007 under a Recipe for Rapport p.30, Daniel Goleman insists that we coordinate with one another most strongly through subtle, non-verbal channels like the ‘pace’ and ‘timing’ of a conversation and through the use of our body movements. People in rapport Goleman tells us, are animated, freely expressing their emotions, ‘… their spontaneous, immediate responsiveness has the look of a closely choreographed dance, as though the call-and-response of the interaction has been purposefully planned. Their eyes meet and their bodies get close … they are comfortable with silences.’ Equally, Goleman points out that, ‘Lacking coordination, a conversation will feel uncomfortable, with mistimed responses or awkward pauses. People fidget or freeze. Such mismatches torpedo rapport.’

Goleman asserts that social psychologists have found repeatedly that the more two people make ‘coupled moves’ that is, unorchestrated, simultaneous movements through empathy governed by natural tempo, the more positive their experience of the meeting will be: ‘If you watch two friends talking from a distance where you can`t hear what they`re saying, you can better observe this non-verbal flow: an elegant orchestration of their movements, smooth turn-taking, even coordination of gazes …’ A silent dance.

Below, in the short video clip, ‘Leaving – ‘a non-present potential to vary’ 3, (Sunday, April 20, 08) the couple under the spotlight conduct an animated and pleasant conversation in the street. Without being privy to their dialogue, we have no way of knowing what it is they are talking about. We could speculate, but this holds no interest for me. I am interested in their body language, their proximity to one another, the signals they unconsciously transmit about the way they are feeling with regard to their engagement with one another and how this evolves through the duration of the meeting. We cannot measure as their conversation unfolds, matures and gradually ends, either their heart rates, their blink reflexes or their breathing to identify changes in the body. These as we know, are responses to changes in the tenor of their connection, prompting in this case an impending movement away from one another, but perhaps while we can understand the theory of what may create this dynamic, without knowing the details we can witness the small drama from afar.

Without being at all judgemental of the behaviour of these two people (coincidentally I have met one of them) if I apply an objective appraisal (arrived at very subjectively) to their situation, it seems to me that if I look carefully at the last minute prior to their separating, although the woman eventually says goodbye, physically walks away and leaves the engagement, the man appears to have already departed from the conversation. He shuffles, he checks his cell phone, he hides behind his hands, he waves his arms uncertainly and looks around. He checks his watch. Eye contact decreases. No longer is he fully present. When she does finally leave, his reaction is one of marginal interest – because he is already no longer fully engaged. His ‘Leaving’ has crept into and hijacked the meeting while they were still talking.

Now, there is nothing unusual in this meeting. It is friendly, a range of communication (both verbal and physical) has occurred and it seems that a mutually agreeable outcome has resulted. The tenor of the conversation as a whole I would describe as quite neutral. Neither party invested too much emotion in the exchange, (this is a guess because I could not hear their conversation – sometimes physical actions can be kept in check in public places therefore belieing the true nature or substance of a meeting) neither was the exchange what I would call intimate; a scenario simply involving two people chatting on the pavement in their lunch-break. So one could also say that, without knowing what was said, there appears to be an absence of poignancy or pathos in the engagement. There is no consuming sense of sadness evident in their parting. It is quite business-like, although I am left with a sense that the woman was more engaged than the man.

Nevertheless, I am interested in what I see as the drama inherent within the meeting. The initial mutual focus on one another which existed, which then developed and altered as time passed. (I filmed this meeting for 15 minutes). I am interested in the quiet drama in the dynamic of leaving which took place, in two different forms. Both people left - movement away occurred in different ways, even though one of them stayed behind.

Indeterminacy and the roaming body – we have no way of knowing how things will go when we meet someone in the street. Somehow though, without always acknowledging it, in some form or another we are always leaving. The only non-variable is our non-present potential to vary – always moving away from meetings which themselves constitute places of temporary purchase within change.

To remind myself I quote Henri Bergson again: ‘… rather than there being things which change’ more accurately speaking, there is, ‘… change provisionally grasped as a thing’. Bergson, H. Visualizing Experience, Henri Bergson on memory in Middleton, D and Brown, S. D. 2005 p.62

*Proxemics: def - Anthropologist Edward T Hall 1959. See Wikipedia and other refs.


Sylvie Haisman said...

not wanting to leave, not wanting to end your current experience, can be seen as a fear of loss - not wanting to lose the present.
we cannot stay in this present, we are always moving on to the next present.
but we always have ourselves, we always have the self that lived through this present and in some way contains this present, or the traces of this present.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Sylvie, thanks very much for posting. Yes, I agree, it is only too easy to hold on to our moments - particularly if we identify them as being significant or meaningful.

I think what I am getting at is the notion that 'leaving' is a state which not so much visits us but rather, governs our behaviour and reality in life generally and can be witnessed particularly in urban environments in meetings between people.

It is a state which in spite of ourselves, we experience daily and it is the regularity of this experience which I find profound: the little scenarios, encounters, dramas which we usually take for granted as simply parts of the fabric of our day.

I am not sure whether you are familiar with Nancy Stark-Smith`s 'Underscore', but two stages in the progression of the structured improvisation as it unfolds never ceases to fascinate me. The stages are 'streaming' when you are simply moving through the group with whom you are dancing, with an elevated spirit - that state which one can recognize sometimes on the street when your spirit is high as the world comes to meet you; and the second stage of 'grazing' when you are surrounded by the group with whom you are dancing and you begin to make the first forays toward a light (but not committed) engagement, touching and moving on, arriving and leaving - which in turn leads to the more concentrated and focussed dueting/conversation.

There are strong parallels here for me. In many ways, CI provides us with insights about arriving and leaving and allows us to practice these events continually in a spirit of inquisitiveness and acceptance of (sometimes not without poignancy or pathos) and often, appreciation in the leaving.

CI allows us to experience this from a somatic/kinesthetic frame of reference, usually without the need for words, so our bodies listen and
respond, connect and miss, delve and skim, arrive, engage and leave - sometimes with regret, sometimes with elation, sometimes with relief.

As you say, we realize that we are responsible for and may freely acknowledge ourself for ourselves.
Leaving is simply a continuation of our ongoing state as sentient beings, I believe. 'Leaving' allows us, indeed furnishes us with the wherewithal to continue ...

Sylvie Haisman said...

Hey Mike,
This is beautiful, what you say. I think your project just clicked for me, maybe i get what you're doing now. Yes I do know the underscore and what u say about the relationship between it and the score of the city street resonates strongly with me. Particularly what u say about streaming and crowds. What i love about the underscore is the way it contains and affirms all experience, even experience which we want to avoid or deny. & this is something i want more of in everyday life. I may be talking about grace here. which makes me think of grace notes, and of the possibility of allowing a moment for just being, at some point in each leaving. thank you for your response to my comment.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Sylvie, What a wonderful comment. Yes, I think the Underscore is an extraordinary vehicle for aligning ourselves metaphorically with how we often articulate ourselves in the everyday. When I practiced it with Nancy about 7 years ago, it was revelationary for me.

The practice of carrying out streaming and grazing with a room full of people has sublime connotations for me. Grace is unquestionably present and this is why unconsciously or consciously I percieve this sometimes, in urban crowds.

My task is to create a narrative which makes comment on this, with rigour and persistence in concentrating on the almost-missed, the hidden dialogues so the memory of the moment becomes visible.

Thanks Sylvie

Sylvie Haisman said...

several years ago i went to the main hall of sydney's central railway station and sat there from about 3am to 7am on a weekend morning, just to watch the space and the people. something about the architecture there makes everyone look like they are from some previous century, like a breughel painting or something. guess it's just the good old sublime scale - huge space, tiny people. everyone looks vulnerable in there. except i saw one tiny little girl who looked completely powerful, totally unselfconscious. the comings and goings of people, the little dramas playing out, the same characters arriving, leaving, turning up again, homeless people, country people - it was very moving and remains one of the most beautiful improv pieces i ever saw.

nomads.hat said...

When we danced/filmed in Wellington Railway Station last year, I was struck by something similar. Railway stations are often in Victorian architectural mode and so hold onto that grand facade feeling and a sense of timelessness. I like them for their lighting and that sudden onrush of pedestrians (and accompanying sounds, swelling and dying and swelling) on a mission, which in visual and conceptual terms translates into linear, focussed motion. I am interested (still) in what may occur on the periphery of this concerted river of movement.

In last year`s post entitled, 'Missed conversations in urban spaces - the body as stage', under November, there is a short clip of me rolling across Wellington Railway Station concourse. I am re-working this footage at the moment in collaboration with a Wellington sound engineer to explore a movement/sound relationship. This piece affected me quite profoundly at the time, as a draft idea into interventionist strategies.

I really like your memory-vision of the diversity of people and the bustle of micro-dramas. I can see the Breughel folk clearly. We will be dancing in the train station this week for sure.

Little vignettes of captured, ambiguous movement ... 'what are these people doing?'- this is what I am after.

Thanks Sylvie