Thought and Action--Bill T. Jones in Conversation with Roger Berkowitz12-16-2010
On Dec. 1, 2010, director and choreographer BILL T. JONES and Hannah Arendt Center Academic Director Roger Berkowitz held a public conversation titled Thought and Action, including a performance of Mr. Jones' work, Floating the Tongue, by dancer and Education Director of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Leah Cox. The evening was sponsored by the Bard Dance Program.
As he told Roger Berkowitz in their conversation, Bill T. Jones has long been fascinated with the work of Hannah Arendt. Back in January, 2009, he cited Arendt's The Human Condition on his blog. In a post concerning the dangers that the exponential growth of technology poses for human freedom, he cited Arendt's warning that,
"While such possibility still may lie in a distant future, the first boomerang effects of science's great triumphs have made themselves felt in a crisis within the natural sciences themselves. The trouble concerns the fact that 'the truths' of the modern scientific world view, though they can be demonstrated in mathematical formulas and proved technologically, will not longer lend themselves to normal expression in speech and thoughts...We do not yet know whether this situation is final. But it could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is."
When human life, human action, and our humanly created world are no longer expressible in a human language, then thinking--which Arendt imagines as a dialogue with oneself that must take place in language--is also threatened. It is this endangered relation between thought and action that Mr. Jones has found so provocative, and which he himself explored in his 1976 work, Floating the Tongue.
While Mr. Jones choreographed Floating the Tongue before reading Arendt, he tells me in this discussion that he has come to see the questions he was exploring--the possible expression of thought in action and of action in thought--to be similar to those Arendt raises in her unfinished last book, The Life of the Mind.
You can Watch Leah Cox dance Floating the Tongue here.
You can watch the discussion here.
And the Q&A that followed, here.
?Director and choreographer BILL T. JONES is the co-founder and artistic director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He is a two-time Tony Award winner and MacArthur "Genius." He and his company are resident artists at Bard, engaged in a unique teaching partnership with the College’s Dance Program. Bill T. Jones joined us here just a few days before he traveled to Washington, DC to receive Kennedy Center Honors alongside Oprah Winfrey, Merle Haggard, Paul McCartney and Jerry Herman. He was recently inducted in to France’s Order of Arts & Letters. His musical FELA! is playing on Broadway and recently opened at the National Theater in London to much acclaim.
Associate Professor of Political Studies and Human Rights ROGER BERKOWITZ is the Academic Director of Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking. As an interdisciplinary scholar, teacher, and writer, Roger guides the Center’s mission to foster thinking about problems and crises that reflect the insight and independence that Hannah Arendt brought to bear on political and ethical themes.