another quotation towards Minus Theatre’s workshop at Performance of Hope Symposium, on decomposition, illustrated with some photos by Sebastião Salgado and a clip of Rita Renoir

“The material things do not lie bare and naked before us; they are there by engendering perspectival deformations, halos, mirages, scattering their colors in the light and their images on surrounding things. Human bodies too move in the world engendering profiles and telescoping images of themselves, casting shadows, sending off murmurings, echoes, rustlings, leaving traces and stains. Their freedom is a material freedom by which they decompose whatever nature they were given and whatever form culture put on them, leaving in the streets and the fields the lines of their fingers or feet dance, leaving their warmth in the hands of others and in the winds, their fluids on tools and chairs, their visions in the night. Bodies do not occupy their spot in space and time, filling it to capacity, such that their beauty would be statuesque. We do not see bodies whose form and colors are held by concepts we recognize or reconstitute. We do not see bodies in their own integrity or inner coherence. We are struck by the cool eyes of the prince of inner-city streets, moved by the hand of the old woman covering the sleep of a child. We are fascinated by the hands of the Balinese priest drawing invisible arabesques over flowers and red pigment and water. Our morning is brightened by a slum-dweller whistling while hauling out garbage. We hear the laughter of the Guatemalan campesinos gathered about a juggler, like water cascading in the murmur of the forest. When we are beguiled by the style with which the body leaves its tones, glances, shadows, halos, mirages in the world, we see the human body’s own beauty. In the decomposition in our memory, in so many bodies greeted only with passionate kisses of parting, we have divined being disseminated a knowing how to live trajectories of time as moments of grace.

“When the scale of a human presence scattered across vast spaces seems unconceptualizable, as also the utter simplicity of certain gestures and movements seems undiagrammable, we have before a human body a sense of the sublime. The sublimity of a body departing into the unmeasurable spaces make the ideas we form of the superhuman and the divine seem like second-rate fictions. The sentiment of the sublime is a disarray in the vision, a turmoil in the touch that seeks to hold it, a vortex in our sensibility that makes us ecstatically crave to sacrifice all that we have and are to it.

“Human warmth in the winds, tears and sweat left in our hands, carnal colors that glow briefly before the day fades, dreams in the night, patterns decomposing in memory, sending our way momentary illuminations: bodies of others that touch us by dismembering. The unconceptualizable forces that break up the pleasing forms of human beauty and break into the pain and exultation of the sublime are also delirium and decomposition. Not sublimity in the midst of abjection: sublime disintegration, sickness, madness. The exultation before the sublime is also contamination. Porous bodies exhaling microbes, spasmodically spreading deliriums, viruses, pollutions, toxins.”

– in Abuses (1994), Alphonso Lingis, pp. 137-139