… for why would you ever want to know me or thyself? [said the star to humanity]

:a speculation for dance: undoing the thoughts of  Walter Benjamin through the painting practice of Bracha L. Ettinger
1. aura | photo | stone & shell

…I have wanted there to be

no story. I have wanted

only facts. At any given point in time

there cannot be a story: time,

except as now, does not exist…

Jan Zwicky, “The Geology of Norway” from Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. [excerpted]


… …She talks at length about distances…

…“Training is a distancing” she says as she closes her eyes to paint.

Before she places brush to oil she gives time to an object, often of natural construction, such as a shell or a stone. She holds it in her hand sensing its textures and forms as she embodies the psychic resonance [psychic traces] sheltered with-in the object itself.

Walter Benjamin comes quickly to mind through his concept of aura: “We define the aura […] as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.” (1) he writes in his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Aura to Benjamin is a property of time engrained in natural objects: “If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.” (2). Aura is a property naturally bestowed on things — collected through the erosion of time and special to the object itself.

To Benjamin the artist enacts a “contemporary decay of the aura” (3) when they move to represent a natural object. The painter when painting the landscape must undo the distance of aura natural within it and import an unnatural proximity to the object through the painting itself. Painting to Benjamin is practice of proximity and a cut into distance.

Benjamin also admits to an aura surrounding objects made by humans engrained in the art-object


Alive and changeable, an aura eroded into a work of art shines beyond it’s intended original usage (or ritual). It is speculative to note that what Benjamin brings to light regarding the aura of an art-object is a special form of communicability, that is a presence without understanding: The aura surrounding the ancient statue of Venus was imbued in her by her mason, an ancient Greek, and through time without a manual for veneration this aura maintained unto the clerics of the middle ages. In this sense aura does not need language — it is a communicability without language and a transcendence of time.

Painter and psychoanalyst Bracha L. Ettinger uses many words she herself constructs in her writing. One word which finds resonance here is carriance. Ettinger is careful to never directly define this word although one may be able to infer a speculation around the word based on its usages. Carriance — to both carry and to care for — is an action emitted from the labour of art object in art-working. Carriance is a proximity to a distancing force.

“Carriance occurs in the corpo-Subreal and the corpo-Real. It occurs in the social reality also. As an ethical principle — it can orient a political thought”(5)

The aura eroded into the marble statue of Venus by her ancient greek mother/mason passed through and unto the clerics of the middle ages in carriance when and with the Venus art-working. In this case carriance allowed for the transmission of the sentiment of veneration without prescription. The aura of Benjamin’s Venus is both the cut and the inhabitance of time.

Benjamin also admits to the ability of the artist to endow their works with aura as he claims through

ritual as the bestowment of a unique value which transcends tradition (which transcends language): “… the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use of value.” (6) (page 224)”

When Ettinger holds a stone for hours before painting she is enacting an artistic ritual just as the ancient statue of Venus was carved through the ritual of her mason. Ettinger’s oil paintings are not portraits of stone or shell but art-objects imbued with a special aura different from the aura of shell or “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.” (4) stone. All of which find a space of inhabitance in the paintings themselves. In this way the art-objects of Ettinger are spaces which are capable of sheltering a variety of aura through rituals of carriance — complex webbings of psychic resonance — only made available through a compassionate donation of time.

Against an epoch when art necessitated the applied time of the artist, vis-à-vis the threshold into photography, it was possible to understand art as a ‘pure’ form — l’art pour l’art. For Benjamin the advent of photography and mechanized production — a deeper cut into the distance of aura — “emancipate[d] the work of art from its parasitical dependance on ritual” (7) and jettisoned art from it’s hermetically sealed safety unto the world itself. Art “instead of being based on ritual… begins to be based on another practice — politics” (8).

But [sadly] we no longer can speak of an Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Life is far beyond its mechanization. We must now understand our lives as beyond the machine, beyond reproducibility. In light of a life captivated in hyper-mediation the artist Hito Steyerl comes quickly to mind when she claims (somewhere) that viewership is no longer about the image itself but rather, the recognition of patterns. From this position Ettinger’s action of holding a stone — of opening her psyche to psychic resonance — could be interpreted as a willingness to be inhabited by a many; by the continuous availability of multiple auras [psychic resonances]. Her painting ritual is an honest admission that time itself is now many — that our time is NOW so many times and so many nows.

Benjamin felt the beginnings of this sensation; that for him art was [now] finding its base in politics, or said differently that art’s concern was becoming that of the relationships between others. Now in an age beyond reproducibility — in a time that is always more-than-doubled — in the now[s] of multiple patterns of mediation — art’s concern with politics has become one of a proto-political and proto-ethical. Art’s place is before sensation in the cut of a kernel that will bloom into an ethical positioning between I and a non-I (I and the art objet, I and the mother, I and the other, I and elsewhere… all caught-up in a NOW).

2. matrixial | magic

… This is what compression is: a geologic epoch

rendered to a slice of rock you hold between

your finger and your thumb.

That is a fact.

Stories are merely theories. Theories are dreams.
A dream
is a caning knife

and the scar it opens in the world

is history….

Jan Zwicky, “The Geology of Norway” from Songs for Relinquishing the Earth.

Ettinger’s paintings are made very much beyond an Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In fact, Ettinger uses an altered process of photocopying as one aspect of her process in oil painting (one could argue that the photocopier is the first art-machine which precisely articulates Benjamin’s premonition of an art of reproducibility). She paints sometimes with eyes closed never towards the formation of image but rather informed through an embodied relationship to ritual and aura. She holds her stone for an hour. She puts her stone down and picks up her brush. She paints feelings in colour. She erases and repaints. She lets dry and repeats. Her paintings take years to complete.

At this point it is important to give a brief overview of her work in psychoanalysis: The Matrixial Borderspace is the title of her psychoanalytic treatise which she claims to sit alongside, the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Ettinger establishes a feminine realm — a beyond-the-phallus — in which to study psychoanalysis not as an antigen to a patriarchal invasion of thought (classical psychoanalysis) but an other realm of study also encouraging the possibility of others and other-others.

Classical psychoanalysis reduces every symbolic act to that of the original act castration — the eternal lost object of the placenta — which forbids any possible knowledge of the pre-life stage of living and exiles humanity to the continuous desire of desire itself (desirous of lack). Ettinger positions our original becoming-self in the wombs of our mothers — in touch with a partial-other — acknowledging ourselves as only ever partial-subjects and continuously engaged in the self-identifying practice as co- practice or rather, co-becoming.

“For Lacan, every lacking or absent object is a phallic one, the result of a symbolic “castration” process — and this holds true for the ‘objet a’ of the gaze as well. And yet, the object of the gaze, like any possible unconscious part-object or its traces, has a ‘beyond-the-phallus’ dimension, ceaselessly struggling to emerge from the misty thickets of Lacan’s late teachings. Generally in psychoanalysis, this ‘beyond-the-phallus’ dimension is reduced to the phallus. It is filtered out by the insatiable “castration” paradigm that inscribes everything in the Symbolic as its own ricochet and subordinates sexual difference to masculine parameters.

The ‘objet a’ of the gaze, as well as the oral or anal ‘objet a’, emerges during the primal separation, which splits the subject and constitutes it on the unconscious level as desirous of lack. Indeed the mother’s gaze, like her voice, enveloped us, touched us, and also eluded us. Its leaving pained us, in a different but no less intense way than our weaning from the archaic oral part-object — the mother’s breast.” (9)

With-In Ettinger’s matrixial borderspace the “primal separation”, which in classical psychoanalysis “splits” the subject, is displaced as originary. With-In the matrixial we will certainly always be partial- subjects and partial-objects. However this is not due to a loss, or lack… this is the original construction of our means of becoming — in-touch enveloped in the wombs of our mothers. For Ettinger the Subject is always already doubled and by so our process of self-identification is partially located always elsewhere.

Life then for Ettinger’s is always othered and always partially elsewhere — always in relationship to an unknown force. The consequence of such a rhetoric for existence is a non-duality within a dual relationship; we are always ourselves in-touch within the womb-space of our mothers and so a complex psychic webbing becomes the replacement of our wombs after the non-life of pre-life. Our womb-space of co-becoming in post-natal existence is relationship; physical, emotional, psychological, and psychic. Our m/others — our unknown partial-others — inhabit our psyches through psychic resonance meaning we are always in a distant state of touching. And for Ettinger art is the compassionate space in which this psychic transgression is made visible to the partial-other/partial-subject. Art for Ettinger is where we can find some small glimpse of navigation for this drifting raft of co-becoming along the deep ocean of psychic resonance that is life.

Benjamin too sensed this special capability in art:


“… Here the question is: How does the cameraman compare with the painter? To answer this we take recourse to an analogy with a surgical operation. The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The Magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician — who is still hidden in the medical practitioner — the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him. Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his[her] work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law. Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is comparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment. And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.” (10)


And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art — the magic of a techne who’s ontology is kept secret from the other.

Benjamin was very much between worlds. All of us and Ettinger do not share this legacy and torment. We are so deeply of an Age of Mechanical Reproduction that our lives now face beyond it. We are no longer capable of conceiving otherwise. It is as if the two world’s articulated through the analogy of the painter and the cameraman have fused into one world.

This is the world of Ettinger’s oil painting: Where aura is multiple, where techne is both visible and secret, where image finds place without being sought intentionally. This is the world also of post- contemporary dance. When dance foregoes it’s capability of becoming language, when dance foregoes it’s relationship to image not as antigen for market-based works of spectacle but rather as recognition of the original capability of the dance-work as a proto-ethical process. For Ettinger all art carries this capability of birthing ethics. Dance is an art-form with an immediate proximity to the body and is capable of art-working without prothesis and so a dance-work that forgoes language is only concerned then with relationship.

Ettinger talks of an art-working as a state of carriance in which the artist moves as close to the abyss without penetration — a maintenance of distancing through proximity. Ettinger’s claim to psychoanalysis as both with and beside finds continuity with Benjamin’s assertion of the duality of the surgeon and the magician when he notes, however brief, that the magician is still hidden in the medical practitioner. Benjamin was no fool to modernity, he understood that there was going back to world before photography. Now we must recognize that there is no going back to the world before the photocopier. the art-working of an age beyond mechanical reproduction unto what we could describe as a age of virtual production is a labour of politics. Film in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction became obsessed with its stories. If we want to break free from the torment of pattern recognition in our age beyond the machine we must forgo recognition itself. No image. No story.

Ettinger represents the surgeon who is retracing the steps of the magician for she understands that her role as an artist in a age beyond the machine is the manufacture of the proto-political through the proto-ethical. However on cannot attempt to make a proto-ethical. It cannot be made. It can only be found. We can no longer hope to save the world with our surgical instruments. We must urge ourselves to stay back — to come as close as we can — to listen — to enact the carriance of auras and await a futureNOW.

3. penetration | the dancer | a touching future

…History, that’s what
confuses us. Time
is not linear, but it’s real.
The rock beneath us drifts,
and will, until the slow cacophony of magma cools and locks the continents in place. Then weather, light,
and gravity
will be the only things that move…

Jan Zwicky, “The Geology of Norway” from Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. [excerpted]

I am so thankful that Walter Benjamin was interested in psychoanalysis. For Benjamin psychoanalysis was a further proximity to a human condition and analysis itself as a penetration into the psyche:

“…Since the ‘Psychopathy of Everyday Life’ things have changed. This book [by Sigmund Freud in 1901] isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception. For the entire spectrum of optical, and now acoustical, perception the film has brought about a similar deepening of apperception…” (11)

Here Benjamin relates the analyst to the cameraman (and thereby to the surgeon). In an Age of Mechanical Reproduction where art’s motivations must be political the film is a magical object capable of cutting together multiple NOWs while keeping secret its techne.

“… As compared with painting, filmed behaviour lends itself more readily to analysis because of its incomparably more precise statements of the situation. In comparison with the stage scene, the filmed behaviour item lends itself more readily to analysis because it can be isolated more easily. This circumstance derives its chief importance from its tendency to promote the mutual penetration of art and science. Actually, of a screened behaviour item which is neatly brought out in a certain situation, like a muscle of a body, it is difficult to say which is more fascinating, its artistic value or its value for science. To demonstrate the identity of the artistic and scientific uses of photography which heretofore usually were separated will be one of the revolutionary functions of the film…” (12)

In an Age of Mechanical Reproduction art’s obligation becomes one of political motivation. A regime of precision and penetration took hold as an apparent ethical obligation to art as deeper and proximal perspective upon the subject and object. But what about dance whose focus and proximity on the body is at once both scientific and artistic. Benjamin forgets to the work of the dancer, similar to that of the magician who somehow acquired the knowledge of the surgeon.

“…Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowering and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious

impulses” (13. page 237)

Without the ubiquity of the photocopier Benjamin (and Freud) were blind to art’s capability as an affective force not solely the reveal of affectations. To Benjamin the camera introduces us to unconscious optics and psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses. However, as Benjamin claims earlier, this is executed through surgical penetration. In an Age of Mechanical Reproduction, under a regime of penetration as means of deepening proximity, art was limited to revelation.

The dancer’s role is to study what goes on between hand and metal. The dancer knows so much of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride never needing to penetrate the other with surgical precision rather with a generous routine of study and time. The dancer is the great healer amongst a broken world. We do not fix things – we heal each other’s hearts with care and compassion while holding together forever broke and broken.

To practice dance is to practice becoming other. In classical training, the dancer enters the studio everyday and everyday sees themself in the mirror next to the other and practices a form of becoming that other, whether it be mimicry, mimesis, or the true-REAL (sensation based training). You see that body — become her! and by becoming her you also take on all of her desires, concerns, and considerations. Everyday we practice understanding and empathy and this is a great privilege, power and responsibility.

This is not penetration. This is the proximity of the magician with the knowledge of surgical anatomy. In an age beyond mechanical reproduction we face NOW beyond the [now]simple recognition of patterns. How can I carry the other without penetrating their body, their psyche. How can I carry them as foreign. This is no longer about recognition. This is about carriance.

“… Carriance and containing are different. In Hebrew, wound (petza) and emergence (haphtza’a)

share the same root. Co-emergence opens a future, co-emergence bleeds. Its denial is traumatizing,

its overwhelmness is traumatic. The passage from transubjectivity to subject and object is a

withdrawal in the passage from response-ability to responsibility, from wit(h)messing to witnessing, recognizing the difference between non-life and death and the passage from non-life to life…”(14)

Carriance is not containing nor is it penetration. The ethical question for today’s artist is to ask: “what world do you want for the future?” not “what world would you like to be in?”. We must recognize that our future is not OUR future. Our future is a future we cannot penetrate. It is a place beyond recognition. It is place outside the consistency of our patterns. The dancer who is both honoured and burdened to always carry the embodied practice of becoming other must recognize the speculative nature of such a practice. We can never become other although we must always practice doing so in order to come as close to one another — to carry each other as a generous action of carriance and hospitality — as currently possible.

Somewhere out there in the expansive universe there is an ancient star. This star is so far away that the light emitted from this star will erode and fade to nothing before it ever comes close to reaching our earth. Existent and banished to invisibility this star has no image, no story. It is has is trajectory and purpose. To be a dancer is to everyday swim as far and deep inside oneself, navigating through darkness in search of a light known to exist and yet known it will never reach the body. This dead star, this dark- light, will always be calling — it is both past and future, a living-death, life and non-life, a great beyond, a forever nameless.

To situate a speculation of a future in language is to limit a futures capacity to go beyond what is current and currently possible. We must admit that if we only imagine a future in which we inhabit then we have ended, before ever beginning, our mission for the ancient beyond the darkness.

4. last speculative though | end notes

…And will they. understand?
Will they have a name for us? — Those perfect changeless plains,
those deserts,
the beach that was this mountain,
and the tide that rolls for miles across its vacant slope.

Jan Zwicky, “The Geology of Norway” from Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. [excerpted]

Patriarchal hegemony breeds with it the supremacy of the penis and by so the action of penetration as sovereign. Maintenance is the action of carrying and caring an other in-through life. ‘Understanding’ under a patriarchal regime has been mis-formed into the act of penetration into to knowledge as its acquisition such like when one uses a hook to catch a fish. When attempting to re-think ‘understanding’ untainted by a patriarchal regime of the acquisition of knowledge I urge myself to carry that which I do not know and this, to me, is no longer understanding… this is something else.

works cited [for a future beyond my own]
1. Page 222. Benjamin, Walter, Hannah Arendt, and Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print. 2. Page 222. Ibid.
3. Page 222. Ibid.
4. Page 223 – 224. Ibid.
5. Page 364. Ettinger, Bracha. And My Heart Womb-Space With-In Me. Leeds: University of Leeds, The Wild Pansy Press, 2015. Press
6. Page 224. Benjamin, Walter, Hannah Arendt, and Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print.
7. Page 224. Ibid.
8. Page 224. Ibid.
9. Page 42. Ettinger, Bracha. The Matrixial Borderspace. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
10. Page 233-234. Benjamin, Walter, Hannah Arendt, and Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print.
11. Page 235. Ibid.
12. Page 236. Ibid.
13. Page 237. Ibid.
14. Page 343. Ettinger, Bracha. And My Heart Womb-Space With-In Me. Leeds: University of Leeds, The Wild Pansy Press, 2015. Press
Also included: Zwicky, Jan. Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. London, Ont: Brick Books, 1998. Print.