Mester’s “Movement and Modernism”

Terri Mester’s look at the influence of dance on literary modernism mostly examines how dance is used as a central image in the work of Yeats, Eliot, Lawrence and Williams. All four writers used dance or the dancer as a kind of symbol for an understanding that exceeds other human understandings. Yeat’s dancer is the most exalted, Lawrence’s the most primitive, seated more in the body than in a whole being. Both see dancing as ritualistic and somehow divine.

In Yeats’ schematic system for the progression of self and history, the dancer “belongs to the fifteenth phase along with others who achieve perfect unity of being” (37).

When I think of the moment before revelation I think of Salomé – she, too, delicately tinted or maybe mahogany dark – dancing before Herod and receiving the Prophet’s head in her indifferent hands, and wonder if what seems to us decadence was not in reality the exaltation of the flesh and of civilization perfectly achieved. (A Vision 273)

She does point out how the writers have dance-like forms, in one way or another. Eliot devising theories of rhythm and the poet’s ‘auditory imagination’, noting further that ‘keeping time orders the universe, so that both humans and beasts are in step or ‘reconciled among the stars’(85). And Williams mirroring the dancer’s movement in space in the fragmented lines slung across the page.

One of her more interesting observations is of Yeats’ fascination with the dancer’s “inward-looking expression. For while the body of a dancer thinks, the face, paradoxically, should not” (33). The difficulty and effort of dancing should be hidden. Further,

Yeats read in the dancer’s blank gaze an ideal of impersonality, which he tried to achieve in his own art. Yeats though that the poet should work on the raw materials of his personal life and “exhaust personal emotion in action or desire so completely that something impersonal, something that has nothing to do with action or desire’ results”. (35, quotes from Yeats’ Autobiography 332)

Move me, baby!

Bibliographic excerpts from an article by W.S Condon and L.W. Sander: “Neonate movement is synchronised with adult speech: Interactional participation and language acquisition”

“As early as the first day of life, the human neonate moves in precise and sustained segments of movement that are synchronous with the articulated structure of adult speech. These observations suggest a view of development of the infant as a participant at the outset in multiple forms of interactional organization, rather than as an isolate. … In contrast, microanalysis of pathological behavior – for instance, that of subjects with aphaic, autistic, and schizophrenic conditions – reveals marked self-asychronies. Delayed auditory feedback also markedly disturbs this self-sychrony. … For example, as the adult emits the KK of ‘come’, which lasts for 0.07 second, the infant’s head moves right very slightly (Rvs), the left elbow extends slightly (Es), the right shoulder rotates outward slightly (ROs) the right hip rotates outward fast (ROf), the left hip extends slightly (Es), and the big toe of the left foot abducts (AD). These body parts sustain these directions and speeds of movement together for this 0.07-second interval. This forms a ‘unit’ composed of the sustained relation of these movements of the body. … This 2-day-old infant displayed segments of movement synchronous with the adult’s speech during the entire 89-word sequence. In other words, this is a sustained and precise occurrence. Another 2-day-old infant sustained similarly synchronous movement throughout a series of 125 words of tape-recorded female speech. … This study reveals a complex interaction system in which the organization of the neonate’s motor behavior in entrained by and synchronized with the organized speech behavior of adults in his environment. If the infant, from the beginning, moves in precise, shared rhythm with the organization of the speech structure of his culture, then he participates developmentally through complex, sociobiological entrainment processes in millions of repetitions of linguistic forms long before he later uses them in speaking and communicating. By the time he begins to speak, he may have already laid down within himself the form and structure of the language system of his culture. This would encompass as multiplicity of interlocking aspects: rhythmic and syntactic ‘hierarchies’, suprasegmental features, and paralinguistic nuances, not to mention body motion styles and rhythms. This may provide an empirical basis for a new approach to language acquisition.” (Condon, W.S. & Sander, L.W. (1974) Neonate movement is synchronized with adult speech: interactional participation and language acquisition. Science 183: pp. 99-101)