Butoh, Bodily awareness and maybe the concept of body

Butoh, practical dimension of bodily awareness.

Reviewing history of art, it is seen that human body has been
always depicted for several aims and in several media. However, the point that whether
the concept of human
body has been also widely considered, and whether it has captured enough
attention becomes an important question in history of art. Bodily awareness and maybe the concept of body despite its
richness have attracted relatively little attention in the field of art compared to
massive use of human body in media. As it has been frequently mentioned in literature, human being
usually aims to use body, but forgets to reflect upon it, and body is always
immediately present to the subject (Merleau-Ponty, 1945; O’Shaughnessy, 1980).
Is not this a special characteristic of human body? This point made me curious to
critically think on this matter and captured my attention to further scrutinize
researches done on body and body awareness. In the following paragraphs, this
study reports and summarizes researches
available in literature on bodily awareness and a form of performance art in
which the body is considered as the center of act, i.e  Butoh Dance, in order to find some overlapping
philosophical and artistic knowledge about the bodily awareness and also the
function of bodily awareness.

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order to realize how our body is made up from a large number of different
components and sensations, we need to focus a little bit on what we usually do
in a typical day to see mysterious ways in which our body is felt. In other
words, human being becomes aware of whatever there is in the world outside the
mind, using their body. The world is seen by opening our eyes while we feel eyelid’s
motion. Looking at surrounding world, we find ourselves thirsty, hungry, tired,
we see our arms moving, our legs crossing, our back suffering from a pain, our
body reacting to extreme heat, our teeth beginning to chatter, and it is all
being felt by body. Compared to other objects to which we relate, our body is
differently controlled, perceived and even it reacts to what occurs in a
different way. We would not be able to find any quota better than the one from
James that “All we experience is this constant blurry fuzzy feeling of the same
old body always there” (James, 1890, p. 242).

Hijikata Tatsumi, the founder of Buoth dance, died in 1986,
believes brain is just a part of the body, and in his view words and body are
symbol for each other. Hijikata’s work captured attention in recent works
including cognitive science. In contrast to what Cartesian believes in, George
Lakeoff and Mark Johnson claim that our minds are naturally and inherently
embodied and because most of our thoughts are not conscious and in our control,
so we cannot easily interpret the mind by referring to self-reflection. (1999:5
– MIT). “The body is not one more among external
objects” (MP, 1945, 92). Furthermore,
Merleau-Ponty states that body made of bones, muscles, joints, and nerves,
which is called objective body, is different than the lived body that we
experience in pre-reflective awareness. To be more specific, the lived body is
not an object such that can be realized from various perspectives and as known,
in order to represent the body, it is necessarily required to adopt an objective
stance on the lived body which means that representing lived body cannot be
even done. Then, the objectified body would not be able to anchor the way we
perceive the world, any more (bodily awareness, 2015, p10), and also from
Hijikata’s point of view, the body in Butoh is the one aiming to avoid meaning
annihilating language; “What
is my work? Yes, it’s my self” and “I’ve nothing to show you but my own


Hijikata’s statements, it seems that the body highly matters for him as the
central part of Butoh compared to the concepts that can be applied to body. To support this point, it can be seen
that in his search the danced vessel was never for artistic catharsis but it
was for the body in dance and the danced body that is
genuinely human and beyond expression – the primal body.


Butoh dance has been defined by Hijikata as a corpse standing
desperately upright (as cited in Fraleigh, 2010, p. 67) at the end of the 1950s, and it is known as one of the most
influential forces in contemporary performance scene. As
Okamura (n.d.)
states, the body in performance avoids to be the medium in order to represent
the sign and in butoh, which
is butoht-ai in Japanese, it is a body which is essentially
liberated from being a tool (para.9). T.Kasai (2000) believes that one of the key words for understanding
for understanding what??? is the butoh body, meaning that a physical and
mental attitude so as to integrate the dichotomize elements such as
consciousness vs. unconsciousness, and subject vs. object” (p.353).???? ???? ??????
???? – ?????? ???? Hijikata once wrote,
“Since the body itself perishes, it has a form. Butoh has another
dimension” (1998:295).

us, our body is quite distinct from anything else in the world, meaning that in
our interaction with the world we can be affecting and affected merely by our
body. In fact, a duality of interaction is built as a result of specifying our body
in particular situations. What makes our body so
special may be that despite other physical objects, we perceive it through
external senses as well as having an internal access to it through bodily
sensations. Specifically, there is a duality
of access to our body which is known as the touchant-touché phenomenon.
When we touch our knee with our hand, a tactile
experience of our knee from external senses (touché) is gained, but there
is also another tactile experience of our knee achieved from the inside (touchant),
and the same thing also applies for other parts of body like hand (bodily
awareness, 2015, p3). However, if
someone else touches our knee we do not have internal tactical experience anymore
and the only thing remains the same is touché of our knee or a tactile
experience from outside. As Arthur Danto mentions the perception for affecting
and affected people cannot be measured easily and in this case what is perceived
by the touched person and the touching person is a mystery as old as
Therefore, what is concluded from Arthur statement is that our perception of touchant-touché phenomenon
leads to bodily awareness, meaning that makes us aware of our body. Tactile
sensation is the most powerful sensation which connects our body and the
external world. Although there is another sensation that cannot be easily
neglected, i.e. vision, classically a contrast is drawn between bodily
awareness and visual awareness, and Arthur also differentiates vision and
perception by referring to them as two distinct sensations. He presents an
example that someone watching a father moving on my foot can easily see the
motion but tactile sensation of feather will never be felt by merely referring to
visual sensation however it was being said that perceiving another individual acting
partially activates the same regions in the brain as when one is acting
(Rizzolatti et al., 1995; Decety et al., 1997).

Now regarding bodily awareness, this question comes to mind that
how different it is compared to perceptual awareness? In other words, am I
aware of my body in the same way that I am aware of a picture, a desert, a sea
or other objects in front of me?  One
difference is that I see and hear the object, for example the sea, however my awareness
from my body comes from inside and the body senses, which go beyond the classic
five senses. Therefore, if these classic senses operate like sensory systems
leading to perceptual experiences, then my awareness of the sea is
differentiated from my bodily awareness. In addition, even if bodily awareness
is resulted from information conveyed by body senses as well as information
conveyed by more classic sensory modalities, including vision and audition,
then it would lead to this point that bodily awareness is perceptual (bodily
awareness, 2015, p13).

Therefore, a conclusion distinguishing our bodily awareness from
our awareness of the world can be drawn which provides premises to define “peripersonal”
and “extrapersonal” spaces. As a definition, extrapersonal space is the space
outside the reach of an individual’s body. Individuals see the bodily self and
then the rest of the world outside the body. But before getting into the rest
of the world, i.e. extrapersonal space, there is a neutral zone around the body,
bordering with bodily self and the external space, with which individuals can
directly interact and is called peripersonal space. Therefore, there is a
fundamental difference between our perception of our body and our perception of
other objects and even the rest of the world because of the nature of the body.

To sum up, bodily awareness
refers to the awareness of oneself qua subject. One can
therefore self-ascribe bodily properties as well as mental properties to the
self without self-identification. Hence the object of such judgments, the self,
is not a Cartesian ego, but it is a bodily subject of both mental and physical
properties (Bodily Awareness, 2015, p23).

The function of bodily awareness

It is mentioned by Clark that stressing the importance of the
body for the mind actually constitutes one of the main claims of the recent approach
of Embodied cognition (Clark, 1997). It is said that the body affects perception,
emotion, and action as well as higher mental processes. Gallagher (2005, 247)
concludes that we cannot find anything about human experience remaining untouched
by human embodiment. Therefore, there is an overlapping idea between bodily
awareness and butoh dance. Specifically, it seems that butoh is a kind of practical
dimension of bodily awareness. In the following perceptual awareness and its function
is reviewed.

Merleau-Ponty emphasizes how the lived body anchors the
awareness of the world. Similarly, O’Shaughnessy (1980) claims that awareness
of body is known as a major determinant of perceptual awareness by spatially
structuring it. For example, when I see that there is an object, like book, on
my left on the table, I spatially organize my visual experience of the book by
my body in two distinct ways. First, the location of book is directly determined
relative to the location of my body. Second, my body even determines the
location of the book relative to the table. The book is seen on the table only from
where I am and because of my perspective while a spider watching the book from
the ceiling sees the book under the table. Therefore, bodily space orients
external space by offering spatial axes such as up and down, left and right,
front and back.

It has been said that bodily awareness influences our perception
of world and this effect goes beyond anchoring reference frames. Regarding some
researchers, bodily awareness has significant effects on how we perceive the
location of objects as well as other properties of objects, including
affordances or what is called causally indexical properties by Campbell (1994).
Causally indexical properties like the weight of objects have immediate
implications for our actions, and depend on our body state. For example, some studies
report that the effortful experience of carrying a heavy backpack leads to steeper
slopes and distances look longer (Proffitt et al., 2003). The authors made a
conclusion that our perceptions are determined based on our feelings. However,
it is worth mentioning that the results reported are still controversial
(Durgin et al., 2009). (Bodily
Awareness, p23).

Hijikata’s decision to work on the Japanese body can be seen as
incidental; Hijikata his search for the butoh body had no choice except for
removing external influences from his work, and he was dealing with Japanese
body, i.e. his body, as the material for his dance (article). Hijikata’s statement “I come
from Tohoku, but there is a Tohoku in everybody. There is a Tohoku in England”
(as cited in Holborn, 1997, p.
seems to be a metaphor. If we admit that the lived body anchors the awareness
of the world, it would be realized that Hijikata’s statement conveys a message such
that knowing the nature of lived body as an
origin of perception, which leads to know the world, is a meaning. As he
was from Japan, He studied Japanese body, and he makes it clear by mentioning
Tohoku, but what he means by saying “there is a Tohoku in England” is that Hijikata
was trying to go beyond the nature of the Japanese body and
reveal the nature of all bodies.
It is likely to claim that Hijikata has incidentally chosen
his butoh Japanese not inherently, and his unveiling of the Japanese body was a step in the unveiling of the human body. At the end of
his career in another work, Hijikata’s
focus on the
weakened body shows that
the exploration of the Japanese body was just a step in his search for a butoh
body devoid of any
of the conventions of society and it seems to validate the hypothesis (article).


Hijikata refers to an
experience about bodily awareness and problem solving by detouring which had a strong impact on him. As
he describes this experience, it seems that he observed someone with cerebral
palsy trying to grasp an object in such a manner
that his (her) hand was not aiming directly towards the object, but rather, that
person decided to take a great detour after a few trials
failed and he/she finally was able to reach the object from the opposite direction. Hijikata called
this as a precisely course of movement that should and has had been teaching it to his students. He
recalled this experience as a great encouragement to him (as cited in Miyoshi, 1988, p. 200, personal translation). (article)Organization of text


the effects of bodily awareness can be seen in another situation concerning
social perception, that is, the perception of cues in other people indicating
their mental states like facial expressions. Since Lipps (????? ??? ??? ???? ?? ????? ??? ??? ???? ????? ??
??? ?????) (1900), it has been recurrently
stated that when perceiving actions of other people, we mentally simulate or
re-enact their bodily movements (Goldman, 2006; Gallese, 2001).

is mentions that perception of another individual acting partially makes the
same parts in the brain active as when someone is acting (Rizzolatti et al.,
1995; Decety et al., 1997). Shared cortical networks have also been found for
empathy. Brain imaging studies have shown overlapping brain activity for
different situations including when subjects feel pain, when they observe
someone else dealing with pain (Singer et al., 2004), when they feel being
touched or watch someone else being touched (Keysers et al., 2004), when they
inhale disgusting odorants and when they observe disgust-expressive faces
(Wicker et al. 2003), (Bodily Awareness, p24, 25).

Going beyond mere conceptual sharing
makes motor and affective resonance special. One does not share abstract knowledge
about the observed action or emotion; one tend to share what might be called
embodied knowledge or knowledge in a bodily format (Goldman and Vignemont,
2009; Goldman, 2012; Vignemont, 2014c).Organization


one of the Hijikata’s work can be reported as an appropriate example of sharing
knowledge in a bodily format, while sharply contradicting his work up
to that point, which always was changing. Shiki no tame no nijushichiban,????? ?? ??? ????? ??
????? ????? ??? ?? ?????? ,
included kabuki-like outward movements, which Hijikata himself performed. There were Yufu
(courageous woman) characters deeply bending their knees and backs with their
chins sticking out. This transitional stage preceded a new style of dance for
Hakutobo, which was characterized by concentrated, contained movements for
female performers. Audience were surprised by the incredible, striking transformation
of Ashikawa into a bowlegged midget-like figure and the com-plete changes of
her masklike facial expressions. Ashikawa has shown the result of practical
work on the body as well as results of the words Hijikata bombarded her with as
they worked alone in the studio. His words were metaphors for his body. Hijikata
was trying to use his words in order to convey his body to her. Ashikawa
responded to this word/ body procedure enormously. Ashikawa even said that an
exchange of bodies occurred (1990:164). (MIT) It seems that Hijikata was able
to share knowledge in a bodily format not only for audience but also
for the dancer through his words. As, Hijikata’s words-her actions:
a methodology in which words are used in order to create definite forms was
being established during this period (MIT), considering the words in should be noted.


What led to call Hijikata’s
dance as butoh-fu (butoh notation) is that he tried to train his dancers and choreographed
works using words, which ultimately led to his dance, being notated by words. A
tremendous number of words surround his dance. It should be noted that scientists
argue that language is physically based.  (???? ??? ???? ???? ??? ????? ???????? ???? ?? ?? ??? ????
– ???? ?????? ????? ??? ???????) In addition, studies of child development
has shown that children empathize with objects as if they were human beings,
projecting their own emotions onto them,  which is called “physiognomic perception”
by the psychologist Heinz Werner. In point of view of a boy at age 2 who
watches a cup lying on its side, it is said that “Poor tired cup!”
Another might call a towel-hook “cruel.” It has been said by Werner that
during a specific stage of childhood called physiognomic it is the very absence
of polarity, and the high degree of fu-sion between person and thing, subject
and object, which are characteristic (Werner 1948 I96I:72). Similarly, in his
lecture called “Kaze Daruma,” (Wind Daruma) which has been published
in this issue of TDR, Hijikata describes placing a kitchen dipper in a field to
show it the world outside. Although Hijikata’s ideas seem close to cognitive
scientists, linguists, and psychologists’ ideas, he had a different personality
from them as he was a poet, always attempting to capture amorphous life-life
that resists being settled in any particular form. Hijikata tried to build his special
universe with his own language. That was one of the reasons that made him keep
changing his styles and themes, as he wanted to avoid getting trapped in a
static form and losing life. (MIT)






Hijikata mentiones that there is an instant in which words are coming
out from a body being uttered (p. 66).
According to this statement it can be interpreted that the language is a part of
our body which leads to perception like the other parts. Instead of liberating the
body from language, Hijikata tied the body up with words, turning it into a
material object, an object that is like a corpse. In contrast, by this method,
Hijikata moved beyond words and presented something that only can be expressed
by a live body. That is the essence of Hijikata’s butoh. Hijikata saw human
existence as inextricably part of the body. But this body only comes alive when
it is chased into a corner by words and pain-that is, consciousness. He
rigorously practiced this point of view with his own body and life (MIT).

Using words, Hijikata’s method makes
dancers conscious of their physiological senses and teaches them to let their
bodies objectified. Dancers can then “reconstruct” their bodies as
material things in the world and even as concepts. By doing exercises
repeatedly, dancers learn to physiologically and psychologically manipulate
their own bodies. As a result, butoh dancers can transform themselves into
everything from a wet rug to a sky and can even embody the universe, theoretically
speaking (Kurihara 1996).(MIT