Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Termini, Arrivals and Outcomes (and real work)

When you go through U.S. customs and immigration in Vancouver (when you're not even going to the U.S.), the question of arrival becomes a strange one. Arrival here seems premature, to arrive before departure, to have in fact pre-empted it, even replaced the experience in total. Stranger still, you are asked to evaluate the customer service afterwards. This is in order, I assume, to see if the customer service outcomes were arrived at (they were – everyone was very pleasant and professional). What does it mean, however, when your only real sense of arrival at the U.S., experience of the U.S., is the satisfactory fulfilment of customer service (maybe this is something Australians just can't understand)?

Or, when flying to Sydney from Montréal, each new arrival at an airport just seems to take you to a new departure or transit lounge. There only seems to be something like Blanchot's non-arrival of arrival made quite literal and simple (as Christine described it to me during speed dating, or was that the arrival of non-arrival?). I never really feel I arrive, not even at Sydney airport (even when I declare my can of maple syrup bought for me by Pierre at the markets .... only after my bag has been x-rayed, the final clearance of thresholds, do we all feel that everything has been satisfactorily pre-empted). Even Sydney airport seems a place of blank transition, another place from which to immediately depart. Finally home, it is true, I feel I have arrived. So of course, I immediately go to work.

The relation between arrival, departure and transition was something that came up for me time and time again during Dancing the Virtual - in different guises: arriving in a new (and wonderful) city; discussing the terminus (and for me, misunderstanding it – I know I was not alone but I felt I misunderstood it in the best possible way); wondering if the workshop would get there in the end, that is, whether we really would "dance the virtual" (and I think we did – even if I myself did it clumsily). If there was a dance of abstractions at Dancing the Virtual, it was perhaps one between arrival (terminus), departure (forward address) and transition (microgestures, infralanguage, or "simply" activating relation in movement).

How appropriate then to be reminded of the fragility of this dance. We can in fact be thankful for the reminder. Here I refer not to flying around the world, but to the idea expressed shortly after the event, from outside of it, that it would better for people to be doing "real work", presumably focussing on pre-determined outcomes, rather than on transitional processes. It is as if the latter – not safely pre-empted – had to be reduced to "just fun" (they were fun of course), without purpose, without direction – experiences that would never arrive at anything important.

Of course, the case is the opposite (and not just because I know for a fact that the postgrads I am involved with would have loved to have had this experience, and not only because all the postgraduates I spoke to at Dancing the Virtual were thinking so deeply and so sensitively).

Perhaps at airports at the moment pre-emption makes sense (or at least we know why it is happening). But do we want our every action, every thought to be pre-empted (even when this is entirely unncessary and in fact unproductive), to be tied to defined outcomes, put to "real work", drawn away from creative research, inventive thought, the kind of thought that pays attention to transition, that moves with it, that is moved by it? I wonder, as one so often focused on outcomes myself, whether to focus too much on outcomes is never to be able to arrive.

This is perhaps a technical question. If so, it is a question full of irony, particularly when it comes to the technics of outcomes and pre-emption. Outcomes and pre-emption attempt (futilely but with a kind of sad passion) to float between real abstraction (the kind that bridges and assembles experience) and actual events. Outcomes and pre-emption try not to touch either real abstraction or actual events. In fact they actively avoid both. This is why they never arrive, or at least only arrive "blankly", and endure only as dessication. For their posture is frozen - it contains no microgestures, no potential for preacceleration (or it is a posture that denies it might be engaged with such things). As such, the technics of pre-emption and outcomes can never go through the necessary transitions in order to arrive, or even simply to live, without twisting the whole process towards a frozen posture, a sad passion. This is a technics that is afraid to dance the virtual, the actual, or anywhere in-between. And, it is a technics that wants to round us up, like so many wayward cattle, towards outcomes, and away from transitional experience.

There are, fortunately, other technical forms of expression, with their own rigour and precision. These would include the simple but (for me) beautiful movement exercises, or the (technical) direction to "create a movement of thought", the extreme discipline of calligraphy, of tango, of coding the remix, of being able to think with the transitions with clarity. These direct us towards experience (as Susan said in one of our pods, we had to begin to move at the beginning, to move immediately into the the transitions, before even thinking of the "outcome", to continue to feel our way through the transitions). And, obviously, it is only by experiencing transition that we arrive. This is the arrival not of Blanchot, or at least not with his accent, but of James, for whom the terminus is absolute in the sense that there is no ambiguity about having arrived somewhere in experience (even if the sense of the transitional experiences involved is to some extent retroactive, in the remix).

It is an arrival that seemed simple enough perhaps for James in his walk to the Memorial Hall, but is today sometimes harder to feel. So for allowing us to re-invent some of the subtleties in this sense of arrival in Dancing the Virtual, I remain extremely grateful. And if it is true that we have to go back to our "real work", as of course we do, this does not mean, I think, that we have to abandon the dance. It always was our real work.


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