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Allan Graubard

The Body and Space

We exist physically in space. But we do not live in this space. Rather, we live in the space that we live. We give form to the life that we live in the space where we live it.

Do we move through space as a falling object, for example? Yes, but we cannot live in this space unless, as we fall, space falls through us. We thus become a falling space. Or, for that matter a rising or a lateral space.

We create a living space that we move and that moves us.

In this way, the body is the space we live. And we move in the space of the body, not merely as a body but as a body that moves us, alone and with others.


If our movements are moving to others, we give them something of the space we create, a space that moves them to create their own space, and to move us in return.

When we move, we move in the way that we move. We create space as we move, a moving space, the provocative space of our moving.

The space we move in is also a body: the body of space defined by the others that move us.


Normally we do not require that we clarify the space we live as a living space save by being in it, after doing something else, for instance, to “pay” for that privilege. But we do not live completely unless we create our lives in the space we live; the living space we live and die in.


With gesture, language, stillness and silence we sculpt our living space.

The Body and Language


Language: a vocal gesture that flowers from silence; that gives and masks meaning. We use language for practical purposes. We do not live by the words we speak; we describe how we live, balancing the two when called to. Rarely do we use language to recreate ourselves and the space we live in; the space we give life to, the space that lives in the language we give it.


Resonant language is not constrained by practical purpose or specific meaning but recreates meaning in silence. Language is a gesture that resonates, and its chorus is silence.


In the theater, the actor projects words, making the body into a sounding board. The actor embodies language by reliving it within the play. The poet plays with language without recourse to a “play.” There is no “character” save in the words the poet writes, and the resonance they give birth to.


Language is born in the body and lives in the space that we live in the body; this vivacious, vulnerable, passionate space.


I eviscerate common meaning from language -- a violent and erotic act of the imagination. I do not allow words to dictate what I write. I trust myself completely.

My words rise from silence and flower in silence. They resonate within the silence that surrounds them but only because they are resonant by nature; they are a medium for the imagination. In this way, they do not carry or make up images; they reveal the images that I give birth to and am born from.

I am not interested in poetry or prose because I don't find any difference between them.
The only difference I find is when language resonates and when it doesn't. And how it does or doesn't.
Writing is a physical act, too. I sit at a desk and grasp a pen or tap on a keyboard. Is there a difference? The pen becomes an extension of the fingers, the nerves, the heart and the mind. The point of a pen dances across the page. A keyboard is still, it doesn't move. But will the writing move us? That is the point, not of the pen, but of the spirit of the imagination that unlocks emotions revealed in images borne by words.

Where do emotions reside? -- in the body. Where do emotions hide? -- in the body. And the imagination? The imagination is part of the body, just as the heart and the mind are.

Where is the heart of the imagination? -- in the body that the heart reveals to the imagination.

Where is the mind of the imagination? – in the heart that the body reveals to the imagination.
Resonant language does something important when it appears: it frees emotions of constraint, it frees the body to express emotions with a language that returns to the body the freedom it lacks: the freedom to imagine a new body, the essential body of the imagination.

This is poetry -- this freedom expressed in language revealed by an imagination that eviscerates its constraints.
I do not know of another way to write. I do not know of another way to conceive of poetry.

I stand at a precipice. My fear is a spur that flowers from my heart. And when I grasp this flower, this heart spur, I do so with fingers spread wide because I want this flower to grasp me.

Just as language resonates when freed of constraint, so does gesture. A resonant gesture has no need of writing; it is its own writing, with its own resonant sensibility; the physical sensibility of the resonant gesture recreates the space we live, and desire to live.

The poet who writes with resonant language and the dancer made poetic by resonant gesture listen to each other in silence.

That is how they communicate.

I once wrote: When words kiss, only silent lips can tell the tale. But I was thinking of poetry. Now, as I think of gesture, I can write: When gestures become lips, they tell tales in silence; the intimate animal girth of a gesture’s physical silence.

They are the same tales, the same stories we live, and that live or die through us.



“Thinking" poses a problem only when I think without my body, when I think to excise the vulnerable somatic presence of the body. And that is what it means to “think in the abstract." I am quite capable of thinking in the abstract, as are you, because I find it difficult to embody thought; to find within thought that place in the body where thought emerges; to find within thought the “shadow” of the body that thought reveals and hides. Can a thought emerge from a shoulder, an arm, the back of the neck, the groin? Yes: Dancers tell us as much. A thought can also emerge from an abstract space, where thought seeks the body by its verve, its rhythm and its clarity. Thoughts that fail to find their body are disembodied. Such thoughts may have logic and meaning but only of a kind, not the whole body of concern with the body returned to thought.

Thoughts are tricky. They need not conform to the space of the body, or any space other than the space they inhabit, the space they create, which may or may not touch us even at the limits of thinking -- if they reach those limits despite the possibility such limits may be abstract. Sooner or later, though, no matter how clever the thought, the thinking, the presence of the body returns, and thought takes notice.

Thinking the body can be an experience in fantasy or a means to revive in the body the power of thought without, at the same time, losing sense of the body, the immanence of the body in thinking.

This body that sweats, shits, stands, sits, crawls, fucks, walks, runs, turns and leaps…

This cold burning defiant failing body…

The Revolt of the Body

The body does not take easily to how we think about it and how we use it. It is forever subverting a systematic passion with an aberrant response, an inimical weight. Gravity, of course, keeps us where we are, just as gravitas hemorrhages meaning where we are not. The two form an axis that sustains us.

The body is never blind. Light warms the skin, night cools the skin; sound reverberates; the body is a membrane drawn tight from then to now.

Nor does the body allow us to believe that we can enforce our rule over it without suffering. Yet we believe this despite the body. We believe this because we do not wish to “limit” thought to the body. Foolish illusion. We defenestrate ideas but the body defenestrates us.

The body is no stranger to extreme conditions: hunger and disease, the strict choreographies expected by work, the constrictions of loneliness, the pleasure of love and the torture of love, the compulsions of hate, convulsions of laughter, brutal hysterias, the trauma of birth, the struggle at death…

The body revolts against conformity. It’s there in every slipshod, every cultured gesture we make. But who can see it?

And when you see it, what will you do with it?


We put on and take off clothes. We cannot do the same with the body.

We change and exchange thoughts in words, sounds or signs, just as we change and exchange gestures.

The body roots to the earth through the hands and feet: hands fall to the earth that the feet stand on. The head is our root to the sky. We live in a state of perpetual vertical tension. And when we reach out to the four directions, and all that takes place in between, we balance the body in three dimensions. But our lives need balance in four dimensions, and for that we have the imagination.

A costume thus encompasses four dimensions as a visual and tactile bridge, an analogue, to a being we become during the time we wear it.

A costume revalorizes the body, and vice versa. It animates the essential body of the imagination in three dimensions.

The costume thus wears its body in the world and the world refracts the costume the body wears. In costume we become Other – the other being we desire.

And the same holds true for the mask in regard to the face, and the body infused by the face of the mask.

The Language of Revolt

The language of revolt gives birth to gestures from the essential body of the imagination. It does not matter if we express this language with words, sounds, visual images, the physical body or things.

There is no secret, no Arcanum, no mystery to the language of revolt. There are different qualities and values in how one reveals it: unique contestations, valuable eccentricities, distinct exaltations, an audacity that humility enriches, an eroticism that love inspires – but this language opens a breach in time that we thirst for, and that in failing to find and develop we diminish.

The language of revolt and the revolt of the body are not identical but they carry a similar sensibility anchored to their human presence in a world more inhuman and ahuman than less.

We seek who we are and have yet to become.


[ Washington, DC, August 2004]