Andrew Hewitt Choreography is a way of thinking about the relationship of aesthetics to politics Interviewed by: Goran Sergej Pristas Frakcija: The key concept and the title of your book is "social choreography" and you use it in relation to both dance and the aesthetic of everyday movement. How do you frame that concept and how is it related to choreography as artistic practice?
Andrew Hewitt: My methodology of "social choreography" is rooted in an attempt to think the aesthetic as it operates at the very base of social experience. I use the term social choreography to denote a tradition of thinking about social order that derives its ideal from the aesthetic realm and seeks to instill that order directly at the level of the body. In its most explicit form, this tradition has observed the dynamic choreographic configurations produced in dance and sought to apply those forms to the broader social and political sphere. Accordingly, such social choreographies ascribe a fundamental role to the aesthetic in its formulation of the political. Attempting to reconnect to a more radical sense of the aesthetic as something rooted in bodily experience, I further use the category of social choreography as a way of examining how the aesthetic is not purely superstructural, purely ideological. I do not claim that aesthetic forms do not reflect ideological positions: clearly they can and do. But they do not only reflect. My claim, instead, is that choreography designates a sliding or gray zone where discourse meets practice - a zone in which it was possible for an emerging bourgeois public sphere to work on and redefine the boundaries of aesthetics and politics.
This argument for the centrality of the aesthetic to the elaboration of social configurations places the critical project of social choreography in opposition to two alternative approaches to the consideration of dance. If the most obvious polemic is against that critical tradition that takes dance as a physical experience of metaphysical transcendence - i.e. against a vocabulary developed in Symbolist and aestheticist writings of the late nineteenth century - this study no less resolutely resists any reduction to the specific social "determinants" of dance, such as race, gender, or class. My argument will not be that these categories do not hold with respect to social choreography, but that in both the practice of choreography and in the critical discourses it generated, such categories were themselves being rehearsed and refined. The aesthetic thus functions in this study neither as a quasi-metaphysical realm separate from the socio-historical, nor as a practice that can be fully explained in terms of socio-historical analysis.
I began the book - as a literary critic - with the desire to challenge the traditional literary tropes of transcendence that have dogged scholarly studies of dance by literary critics. Obviously, dance has a privileged place in the pantheon of modernism. The prevailing modernist paradigm for thinking dance - inaugurated by the Romantics and carried through by the late nineteenth-century aestheticists - has consistently privileged the philosophical, aesthetic, and even religious question of individual "grace" over the politics of social choreography. By looking at choreography as the disposition of bodies in space, I wished to examine a more "lateral" transcendence. Indeed, as I point out in the book, early Enlightenment political theory often - as in Hobbes - took the freedom of bodies to move through space as the very basis of political freedom. To choreograph that movement is always to invoke such notions.
What I am calling "choreography" is not just a way of thinking about social order; it has also been a way of thinking about the relationship of aesthetics to politics. Aesthetic dance - and here we encounter the importance of the performative within our notion of social choreography - functions as a space in which social possibilities are both rehearsed and performed. Consequently, choreography as an intrinsically performative aesthetic form cannot simply be identified with "the aesthetic" and set in opposition to the category of "the political" that it either tropes or pre-determines. In the bourgeois era, I argue that choreography has provided a discursive realm for articulating and working out the shifting, moving relation of aesthetics to politics.