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Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy

Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy

by Erin Manning
The MIT Press, Cambridge, London, USA, UK, 2009
272 pp., illus. 73 b/w. Trade, $32.00
ISBN: 978-0-262-13490-3.

Reviewed by Martha Blassnigg
University of Plymouth


Relationscapes by Erin Manning addresses a wide range of movement analysis and key terms in movement studies (such as elasticity, intensity, inflection, porosity, interval, hesitation, etc.) in the context of a philosophical framework with focus on philosophies of immanence. It exercises a creative synthesis of Whitehead’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s thought. In particular it builds on Bergson’s and James’ conception of perception as activity and creative event in the spectrum between what Manning refers to as “objectness” (or Heidegger’s terms “worlding”) and experience. She introduces the concept of preacceleration as a way to address a vocabulary of movement that foregrounds incipience rather than displacement. Through this the author draws on aspects of Bergson’s conception of motion as duration (durée) prior to the emergence of form, as force or dynamism of qualitative states that underlie creativity prior to actualization in various forms of expression.

Informed by the works and thoughts of dancers such as Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe, Mark Coniglio, Scott de Lahunta, and Antonio Camurri, Relationscapes proposes a thinking and writing of ideas on movement from a practice-led perspective through the filters of sensation and personal reflection. In doing so it addresses phenomena of movement prior to actualization from different disciplinary contexts. These include key figures in 19th century scientific visual movement studies by glossing the innovative work by the French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey. A similar treatment is applied to the animation films by Norman McLaren, Leni Riefenstahl’s films, David Sprigg’s Sculptures and examples of contemporary Aboriginal art. Her treatment allows Manning to draw in references to the aspect of neural necessity of causal efficacy in mental health, and to propose a body-emergent technogenetic in the relationscapes of dance in the context of new media technologies.

The deductive modality in the development of the argument for preacceleration provides the rational for the choices of the materials discussed, which is a pity, since this concept potentially could have been much more firmly situated and emerged from within the materials presented. Consequently Relationscapes does not treat historic material on its own terms or in its specific relational context of the time. This is important since as in the case of Étienne-Jules Marey’s work, for example, there is first hand evidence to use. Instead Manning overlays contemporary continental philosophical terminology, occasionally referenced, onto original creative thinking that informs a number of works, which to some degree are arbitrarily chosen.

Although this way of working might be regarded as a radical interpretation of Deleuze’s conception of philosophy, the reader needs to be critically informed about these original works and the philosophical concepts applied in order to detect the subtle moves by the author; a demand made more difficult since mostly they are not clearly demarked or referenced through established academic conventions. Whilst this might be seen as a lack of academic clarity, however, this is clearly not the foremost concern of the book. Rather it seems to attempt to invent a new kind of language of expression, one that uses words and terms as markers for a dynamic of ideas that is constantly in move and in change. Almost like a new form of expression for dance it holds up a temporary framework of reference in order to grasp an idea in anticipation of its next step – ‘preacceleration’ ad verbum.

In order to grasp the meaning of some of the ideas proposed, pre-requisites for a critical reading are both a sophisticated prior knowledge of the terms and philosophical ideas discussed, along with an easy approach to the rigor and original frameworks of these ideas. This is a challenging conflict to balance, and it can be expected that each reader will undergo a slightly different experience depending on her prior knowledge, motivation and ability to let a creative flow overtake sensory perception and reasoning. An exercise, which in this reviewer’s experience, fluctuated between informed creative writing and moments in which ideas take a line of flight. Although insightful, the work, as such, remains inconclusive, since the method applied could potentially be extended to any object, any thing alive with movement. As Manning concludes in one chapter: “Relationscapes abound”.

Last Updated 16th August, 2010

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