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Mark Franko: Myth, Nationalism and Embodiment in “American Document”
Myth, Nationalism and Embodiment in “American Document”
(p. 163 – 177)

The mythic dimension of corporeality

Mark Franko

Myth, Nationalism and Embodiment in “American Document”

PDF, 15 pages

In 1938, the choreographer Martha Graham became politicized by hearing Adolf Hitler’s radio broadcasts. At this time she refused an invitation to the 1936 Olympic Games, and received a Nazi shortwave radio message addressing her as the personification of the United States. Graham’s dilemma was how to present a pro-democratic message in modern dance while also maintaining an anti-fascist position that was critical of America, of its own forms of racism, and of the growing internal fascist tendency. This paper analyzes the complex political positioning of Graham’s “American Document” through the libretto, with its spoken texts, and through the influential photographs Barbara Morgan took of this work. The analysis relates the anti-fascist position that the democratic project is incomplete with the aesthetics of the work as exemplified in its representations by Morgan’s ‘action photography’.

Despite Martha Graham’s distaste for sectarian politics of the early thirties, her refusal of the Nazi Culture Ministry’s invitation to dance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games was politically motivated.1 Graham’s anti-fascism dates from her response to Rudolf von Laban:

I would find it impossible to dance in Germany at the present time. So many artists whom I respect and admire have been persecuted, have been deprived of their right to work, and for such unsatisfactory and ridiculous reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting this invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible.2

From this time until the outbreak of World War II Graham was active in the popular front. A report on a talk she delivered in 1937 – Nazi Destruction of the Arts – shows that Graham learned of Laban’s fall from favor with the Culture Ministry after the Olympic Games.3 Graham asserted in 1939 that dance itself in Germany had been “proscribed; bound down.”4 But she conceded: “What conditions exist today, at this time, I do not know, because very little comes out.”

The antifascist position in American art dates officially from the 1936 American Artists’ Congress. Graham collaborators Barbara Morgan and Isamu Noguchi were signers of the original call for the Congress; Morgan’s name also appears in 1939 on the Executive Board list of the New York Branch.5 Graham addressed the second national convention of the Congress in 1937.6 At the Public Session at Carnegie Hall Erika Mann read a message from Thomas Mann, and Pablo Picasso spoke to the assembly by telephone. Graham also addressed the symposium Nazi War Over Europe held by the American Committee for Anti-Nazi Literature on February 14, 1937.

The political agenda of the American Artists’ Congress consisted not only of its opposition to fascism abroad; it also opposed curtailment of civil liberties at home, and was anti-war. The 1941 call, In Defense of Culture, states:

Today the Fascist threat has come full circle. In a traditionally free and liberty loving America, Fascism comes in the name of anti-Fascism. All the enemies of progress suddenly become defenders of democracy. Our liberties are destroyed to defend liberty and the policies to which our people are committed by their government, in the name of peace, border ever closer on overt war.7

Antifascism was not exhausted by a celebration of democracy; it was equally, and perhaps more importantly, a critical response to the erosion of democratic values that can result from opposing fascism. “Fascism comes in the name of anti-Fascism”. As Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out: “[A]ntifascist nationalism was patently engaged in a social as well as a national conflict.”8 Identifying these aspects of antifascism enable me to shift the critical terrain away from representation as a form of democratized aesthetics in this discussion of American Document to the relationship between aesthetic and political representation.

The Impact of American Document

When Graham’s American Document premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York City on October 9, 1938 it engendered a sense of community between the general public and the dance world, and within the dance world itself, where such community had not previously existed.9 Lincoln Kirstein, despite previous aesthetic gripes, extolled “the quality of Graham’s idiosyncratic gesture formulating just what she meant to say.” 10 Kirstein implied that in American Document Graham avoided the traps of national folklore into which so many choreographic productions of this period had fallen, including Kirstein’s own projects. The left-wing press, for its part, set aside its persistent political misgivings about Graham’s oeuvre: New Masses – the most prominent left-wing cultural publication of the thirties – sponsored the New York premiere. While I do not have the space here to analyze the Libretto and the piece in detail the original version was critical of injustices in American history.11 Its critical stance was directly related to anti-fascist politics. My claim here is that antifascism is the most productive lens through which to view this work, and the analysis that follows focuses in particular on the politics of body image with respect to myth, utopia and the photographic image.

The first national tour of an American dance company in 1939 confirmed American Document as the first American modern dance to address national identity, and Graham as the first American modern dancer to reach a national if something short of a mass audience: its success propelled her to national prominence.12 “Martha Graham,” one critic wrote, “has not only succeeded in interpreting America but her vital art has enabled America to interpret modern dance.”13 Graham’s new political orientation made her work more legible to the general pubic. “I want the audience,” she said in a rare interview with The Daily Worker, “to feel no obscurity or doubt at any time about what is happening on stage.”14

To like American Document became almost a patriotic duty. The Hollywood Citizen News asserted: “If there is any American who can witness Martha Graham’s new dance composition ‘American Document’ without emerging from the experience a finer, prouder citizen, that person is impervious to reason, numb to emotion, insensible to art.”15 The American Dancer reported in 1942 that Graham’s company performed in “convention halls, sport palaces on the scale of Madison Square Garden” where “the response was so thunderous that the performers were often frightened at the sound, the cheers being as mighty as for a new world’s record in some sport.”16 It remained in active repertory until 1944, but by this time the piece had been purged of its critical dimension. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Graham’s national breakthrough had a political basis.17

Graham originally conceived American Document as a response to the demagoguery of Nazi speechifying: “our own country – our democracy – has words, too, with power to hearten men and move them to action.”18 She had been “listening to the vicious and terrifying words sent over the air from the Axis countries.”19 Fascist orality, as Alice Yaeger Kaplan has called it, was a political phenomenon of the 1930s.20 A “new culture of the senses”, as Inge Baxmann has named it, wedded a pulsating kinesthetic imaginary of the body and the voice to the broadcasting potentials of radio, film and photography.21 This culture of the senses bore witness to the power of live and mediatized embodiment as the weapon of choice in ideological struggle. New communication technologies not only took up the body and the voice as the proper starting points for such effects, these technologies emulated and simulated embodiment as such. If radio produced a voice that invaded the privacy of the home, film and photography projected dynamic impressions of corporeality in public space, magnifying it on the screens of movie theatres and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. To understand how Graham’s choreography expressed antifascist politics we need first to understand that the ideological contest between fascism and liberal capitalism was not only conducted across a common symbolism, but in embodied terms. In fact, the term symbol itself as associated with ideologically inflected images is most likely a misnomer.

Myth, Embodiment and the Image

This tension between embodiment and the image lent corporeality a mythic dimension. As Georges Sorel, the theorist of revolutionary syndicalism, wrote: “A myth cannot be refuted, since it is, at bottom, identical with the convictions of a group, being the expression of these convictions in the language of movement”.22 Sorel related this mythical awareness to the unique experience of decision-making:

It is very evident that we enjoy this liberty pre-eminently when we are making an effort to create a new individuality in ourselves, thus endeavouring to break the bonds of habit which enclose us […] It seems to me that this psychology of the deeper life must be represented in the following way […] To say that we are acting, implies that we are creating an imaginary world placed ahead of the present world and composed of movements which depend entirely on us.”23

Sorel likens myth to something whose image lies before us in and as the future. In a certain sense, the ”expression of convictions in the language of movement” is always an incipient phenomenon. That moment of decision is impregnated with emotion: “[…] [W]hen the masses are deeply moved,” notes Sorel, “it then becomes possible to trace the outlines of the kind of representation which constitutes the social myth.”24 Thus, he also specifies; “The myths are not descriptions of things but expressions of a determination to act.” In other terms, myth demands action whereas utopia does not: it is a representation of what is not there.

Utopia for Sorel, on the contrary, is an intellectual project.25 He distinguishes between myth and utopia in the same manner as he distinguishes between emotion and intellect. As Willy Gianinazzi puts it in his discussion of Sorel: “utopia is an ideological process that derails and bogs down the action of the masses.”26 Despite the popular success of American Document it contained a utopian perspective by virtue of its antifascist reflexive critique. When Graham said in 1937: “This is a time of action, not re-action. The dance is action, not attitude, not an interpretation,” this was only partially true.27 One would most readily associate myth, as David Gross points out, with what he calls “the action-image”.28 Myth is the proof of life in the image and of the image in life.

In the midst of rehearsals for American Document in the summer of 1937 dancer Jean Erdman, who had just married Joseph Campbell, came to study with Graham at her Bennington College summer residency, and joined the Company at the same time as did Erick Hawkins. Hawkins had studied briefly with Harald Kreutzberg in Salzburg in 1933 after which he returned to the US and enrolled in Georges Balanchine’s School of American Ballet (1934–1938).29 He became a member of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan and debuted in Balanchine’s Serenade.30 His premiere as a modern dancer, however, was in Graham’s American Document in 1937 at Bennington. Through Erdman, Graham met Campbell, the mythologist and soon to be popularizer of Jungian ideas. “In his talks with her up at Bennington”, remembers Erdman, “he must have gotten going on his favorite subject, mythology. She started reading the Greek myths and she got very excited about doing them.”31 In that ominous year Graham met the politically conservative Campbell whose enthusiasm for myth, along with his devotion to Jung, would come into vogue in the US only after 1945, to continue well into the 1950s. Although Graham’s myth works would only be choreographed in the postwar years she began to read Jung avidly in the summer of 1937 according to Campbell virtually at the same moment when she premiered her first anti-fascist solo – a response to the Spanish civil war – Immediate Tragedy.32 Campbell’s refusal to take an anti-fascist position in a talk he gave at Sarah Lawrence College in 1940, “Permanent Human Values,” received a stern rebuke in 1941 from Thomas Mann whose advocacy Campbell had hoped to enlist. Mann’s position on Hitler had changed since he expatriated – like Brecht and Adorno – to Santa Monica.33

Graham’s post-war engagement with Greek myth took root in the pre-war antifascist moment – the very moment when Jung was also establishing an institutional presence in the United States. The Analytic Psychology Club of New York (now the C.G. Jung Center), with which Graham’s analyst Frances Wickes was affiliated, was founded as of January 1937.34 Graham’s interest in myth so often associated with Jung came to her through Campbell: a conservative, if not to say politically retrogressive source in her midst. In the fall of 1937, Jung himself came to the U.S. to lecture at Yale University. Otto Rank, then also living in New York City, wrote on October 15th to his disciple Jessie Taft: “Jung is coming next week to this country, seemingly an apostle of Nazism. In today’s issue of Saturday Review of Literature he has an article on ‘Wotan’ justifying fascist ideology”.35

Leni Riefensthal’s documentary film practice was simultaneously becoming a potent tool of Nazi propaganda. Olympia – the documentary celebrating the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, which Graham had declined to attend – premiered in 1938, the same year as did American Document. Both works competed across the visual field of the body-nation metaphor. The athletic and classically trained Hawkins is not entirely distant from Riefenstahl’s semi-nude male athletes imitating classical statuary in the opening sequence of Olympia.36 Ironically, the camera and editing techniques of Olympia still identify it a landmark of modernist cinema whereas American Document is now a virtually forgotten work. It has been ‘revived’ twice, but without any intention of reconstituting the original. American Document is unique in the Graham repertory for being considered not only unsalvageable, but also undesirable in anything approaching its original form.

Action Photography as Document

Although Graham distrusted film as a document of live performance, she did put her trust in the photography of Barbara Morgan. Beginning in 1935 Barbara Morgan undertook the photo-documentation of Graham’s dances in a “small, non-commercial theater” using “complex lighting constructions.”37 Morgan’s photographs of Graham reached a broad public by 1941 with the publication of Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs. This portfolio was advertised in the Book of the Month Club’s “Say, Is this the U.S.A.” section, and featured in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine (September 28, 1941). The dissemination of photographic documentation of American Document augmented the work’s circulation and took on a form unique in itself: the action photograph. Graham’s heightened national visibility owes something to the contemporaneous advances in Morgan’s dance photography. Both Graham and Morgan were keenly aware of photography’s power to witness the provocative relationship between dance and action on the stage and in the still image. “Psychological ramifications of the dance”, wrote Morgan, “are vast and powerful for good or evil. Dance can release or induce hysteria.”38 Graham wrote: “[Dance] communicates its participation to the nerves, the skin, the structure of the spectator.”39 This dissection of the body into receptive zones of nerves, skin, and structure significantly omits the category of blood.

In a letter to Bertrand Russell of November 8, 1915 D.H. Lawrence distinguished between what he called “blood-consciousness” and “mental consciousness”.40 Lawrence took the notion of blood-consciousness from his reading of Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Totemism and Exogamy. He relates blood-consciousness to sexuality in a manner parallel to the relation of mental consciousness to the visual. “There is the blood-consciousness, with its sexual connection, holding the same relation as the eye, in seeing, holds to the mental consciousness.”41 Lawrence also relates mental-consciousness to the nerves. Hence mind, eye, and nerves all participate in intellectual activity. Blood consciousness, however, does not. We touch here upon aspects of embodiment in modernism that were already in circulation just before and during World War I. Approximately ten years later Graham would grow interested in what Lawrence called “the half of life, belonging to the darkness”. Her autobiography, Blood Memory, subscribes to this idea.42 But, more saliently, her Jungianism, in evidence especially after the war with Dark Meadow in 1946, subscribes to a sort of communication not unrelated to Lawrence’s idea of blood-consciousness.

Another important aspect of myth looks back to the past. Here we might invoke that other anatomical receptor of the effects of movement – the bone structure – Graham elaborated on the skeleton in one of the libretti for Appalachian Spring, when she wrote: “This is a legend of American living. It is like the bone structure, the inner frame that holds together a people.”43 The skeleton is the armature of living matter but also a sort of futur antérieur – a will-have-been – that stands between the present and the future as an incipient past. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy have discussed the Nazi myth as a past that must be (re)lived. “The characteristic of Nazism (and in many respects that of Italian fascism) is to have proposed its own movement, and its own State, as the effective realization of a myth, or as a living myth.”44 This gives us a second and important ingredient of embodiment, according to which bodies are not only required to convey an unshakable conviction in movement as incipient action at the visceral level, but must also, in so doing, relive a mythical past that prescribes such action. It is in this connection that Graham’s construal of the historical text of national origins as a document rather than as a myth both competes with fascist symbolism and opens a gap between itself and fascist representational strategies.

The Utopian Structure of Action Photography

“This is the first decade of action photography,” wrote Morgan, “in which it has been possible technically to photograph unrestrained dance action.”45 Morgan set herself the task of capturing peak moments thanks to which the dance inscribes itself in memory. “It is the role of photography to seize such moments; to fuse reality, art, and time.”46 Dance photography could extend the reach of movement’s call to action without undercutting its visceral qualities. “The still photograph,” writes Morgan, “[is needed to] clarify the significant instants [of the dance].”47 But, it does more than that: the photograph also sustains the movement of dance toward the future. It preserves the positive effects of action, as it were, in a permanent future.

The notion of action in the photograph relies on the future of movement in the image. “Nothing,” notes Morgan, “seems emptier to me than merely ‘stopping’ action […] So-called ‘stopping’ or achieving un-blurred form and detail in focus should be done with such a fine logic of movement that it seemingly continues even though arrested by the camera shutter.48 Morgan names the optimal moment of photographic capture “the moment of greatest tension before the peak […] or the peak explosion of that tension.”49 To capture the continued flow of dance in the still image, explains Morgan, the photographer must anticipate movement. The photograph is only true to dance when it shows us where movement will go, and this can only happen if the photographer anticipates the moment she captures by clicking the shutter before movement actually happens. “If the photograph is shot in the tension peaks before the release, the picture should nevertheless imply continuity.”50 Morgan understands action as continuity in the image between a past, a present, and a future. But, action is equally a discontinuity or, rather, the occasion for the spectator to do the work of missing emplotment.51

This counterpoint between movement and image – between dance and photography – indicates that we are dealing here with a phenomenon of figuration, which Louis Marin has identified as a utopian phenomenon. Imagined community is also, as Phillip E. Wegner points out, imaginary community.52 It is this gap in the representation between the imagined and the imaginary that also characterizes the performance of Graham’s antifascist politics; American Document enacted an affirmation of democracy and a utopian invocation of national community. It is this utopian aspect of the performance that pertains to the gap between image and motion, or the gap between the image and the motion that follows it, a gap that haunts dance photography. We do not see where movement will go. This inability to see movement’s destination, if only symbolically, occurs in the gap between democratic ideals and proto-fascist practices, which posit knowledge of where the body will go because myth in the present is the re-living of a past reality. Dance photography renders action as the search for continuity toward the future and captures it through anticipation in the past of a present that had not yet occurred.

This is One Man

Hawkins’s entrance was captured in a famous Morgan photograph. The Interlocutor says ”[…] This is one man. This is one million men.”53 The text of these two scenes was so closely associated with the dance that it appears under the plates in Morgan’s book. Hawkins’ energy appears barely contained within the frame, yet the breadth of his stride also suggests a rootedness. He creates a space ahead of himself that he is at the point of attaining; yet, he also appears to be pulled backwards. Graham clearly exploits Hawkins’ presence here with reference to contemporary iconography of the common man/worker. His enterprising energy suggests the democratic ethos. “This is one man,” announces the Interlocutor, ”This is one million men […] This man has a power. It is himself, and you.” Ellen Graff notes that “Hawkins’ solo portraying the struggles of the work force [was] probably the most explicit representation of working class America in Graham’s dances.”54

The photograph of Hawkins with its legend begs the question of what he represents. The issue of representation – both aesthetic and political – emerges in the photograph with a certain complexity. Although Hawkins’s appearance does bring the iconography of the worker to mind, I would suggest he should be read as a figure of participatory democracy. “One Man” walking across the stage is proposed as an aesthetic representation of a plurality of men (“one million men”). His standing (or walking) for others is a function of democratic equality. Further, One Man’s “power” is forceful only inasmuch as it is a (political) representation: “This man has a power. It is himself, and you.” His power resides in his equality with others; he shares his power with others and he draws it from them. Hawkins, then, is an individual inasmuch as he represents, or is (a) representative.

The worker, in other terms, enters Graham’s universe under the aegis of representation. Hawkins not only represents the worker in Graham’s oeuvre; he also stands for the work of (democratic) representation. Kirstein observed that Hawkins “stood and walked like a workman’s best idea of himself as a dancer,” suggesting that the worker becomes a dancer in order to stress his equality with other workers.55 Yet, representation also has a political dimension here. In this dance celebrating democratic traditions, Hawkins stands apart from the millions (or walks alone) precisely because he represents them, as the representative would stand for the electorate.

F.R. Ankersmit argues in Aesthetic Politics that one of democracy’s most positive if least understood traits is to sunder thought and action, and thus to instance the “brokenness” of political reality.56 Democracy, in other terms, works on analogy with the “crisis in representation” of the aesthetic sphere. Just as no absolute match is possible in modern art between the artwork and what it represents, this relationship being recognized as in “crisis,” so political representatives retain a vexing autonomy from those whom they represent. This autonomy of the political agent (action) from the democratic constituency (thought or intention) for Ankersmit is a positive if still troublesome trait of representative democracy.

In the Afterpiece, Hawkins collapses the representative and the represented into one body. But this collapse does not create a totality as much as a divided state. He allegorizes democracy as the broken state of political reality. And it is precisely for this reason that democracy in American Document is something that needs to be sought for, something that is not thoroughly established. The dance photograph itself testifies to this brokenness. It is brokenness between mobility and stillness, between performance and its visual reproduction; and, in the dance, between ritual presentation and historical representation, conventional patterns and undefined national space. If the document is a figure of America’s past evoked by the choreography, and a mechanism whereby the urgency of democratic processes can be critically conveyed to a national public, it is also a vector of movement rendered by Morgan’s action photography. But, the very figure of the document is subject to discontinuity: the discrepancy between image and flow. The truth of the document is the lack of its closure, to speak like Hayden White, regarding its own narrative: “lack of narrative closure points to weaknesses in systems of law, legality or legitimacy.”57 Brokenness itself constitutes the figure of community proper to American Document, and points toward that community’s possible future political practices.

1 For a discussion of Graham’s politics and aesthetics in the early thirties, see my Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995) and The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002).

2 Martha Graham, Letter to Rudolf von Laban, March 14, 1936. Scrapbooks, Martha Graham archive, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Those who would not be welcome in Germany were the Jewish members of Graham’s company.

3 “A Dancer and an Educator on Fascism”, Dance Observer (March 1937). See Lilian Karina, “Laban’s Downfall and Post-Labanism”, ed. Lilian Karina and Marion Kant, Hitler’s Dancers. German Modern Dance and the Third Reich, transl. Jonathan Steinberg (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2003), pp. 57–61.

4 Martha Graham, “A Dancer Speaks, a talk delivered at the Professional Conference against Nazi Persecution,” TAC (January 1939).

5 Morgan contributed to a discussion about the inclusion of photography in the American Artists’ Congress. See her “Photography and the Plastic Arts,” The American Artist. News Bulletin of the American Artists, Congress vol. 1/no. 2 (Summer 1937).

6 3rd Annual Membership Exhibition. American Artists’ Congress (February 5–26, 1939). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C. The John Reed clubs charter contained a platform against imperialist war and fascism since 1932. See also Matthew Baigell, Julia Williams, eds., Artists against War and Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists’ Congress (Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 1986). I have been unable to locate the text of Graham’s talk, “The Dance: An Allied Art”. The theme was the artist in relation to peace, according to “The Open Session at Carnegie Hall,” American Artist. News Bulletin of the American Artists Congress Vol. I, no. 3 (Winter 1937), p. 1.

7 A Call to a Congress of American Artists in Defense of Culture, June 6-7-8, 1941, New York City. Archives of American Arts, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C. Morgan was a signer of the call for the American Artists’ Congress, and her name also appears on the Executive Board list of the New York Branch. Morgan lobbied for the inclusion of photography in the membership of the American Artists’ Congress: “To incorporate this group of workers in the body of the Congress would be a great stimulation,” she wrote in “Photography and the Plastic Arts”, The American Artist. New Bulletin of the American Artists’ Congress, vol. I, no. 2 (Winter 1937), p. 1.

8 Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 147.

9 The original score was by Ray Green. It is preserved in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. Green was married to Graham dancer May O’Donnell.

10 See Lincoln Kirstein, “Dance: Martha Graham at Bennington,” The Nation, September 3, 1938, American Document clippings file, Dance Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Owen Burke’s review in New Masses was highly favorable.

11 An earlier version of this paper was published as “L’utopie antifasciste: American Document de Martha Graham”, ed. Claire Rousier, Etre ensemble (Pantin: Centre national de la danse, 2003), pp. 283–306. This paper is also a much shorter version of a chapter in Martha Graham in Love and War: The Life in the Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 14–44, in which the politics of American Document are analyzed in greater detail.

12 See Catherine Vickery, “‘American Document’ Tours America,” Dance Observer 6/4 (April 1939): p. 205–206. This article weighs the size of turnout in different geographical locales and the level of audience enthusiasm. In 1936 Graham embarked on a transcontinental solo tour that took her to Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Stanford, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Colorado Springs, Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.

13 Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 2, 1939 quoted from a 1940 flyer of “Martha Graham and Dance Group,” Martha Graham archive, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

14 Marcia Minor, “Graham Interprets Democracy. Uses Militant Theme as Climax of Dance Presented in the Form of a Documentary Play,” The Daily Worker, October 4, 1938. Statements that reveal Graham’s political intent were confided only to the Daily Worker or in personal correspondence.

15 Review dated March 11, 1939, quoted from a 1940 flyer of “Martha Graham and Dance Group”, Martha Graham archive, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

16 The American Dancer (April 1942), Martha Graham Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Scrapbooks.

17 Maureen Needham Costonis cited American Document for Graham’s demonstrated ability to mix politics with art. See her “American Document: A Neglected Graham Work”, Proceedings Society of Dance History Scholars, Twelfth Annual Conference, Arizona State University, 17–19 February 1989, pp. 72–81.

18 “Dance Libretto: American Document, by Martha Graham,” Theatre Arts 26/9 (September 1942), p. 565.

19 Ibid.

20 Alice Yaeger Kaplan, Reproductions of Banality: Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 125.

21 Inge Baxmann, Mythos Gemeinschaft: Körper und Tanzkulturen in der Moderne (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2000), pp. 179–252.

22 Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, trans. T. E. Hulme & J. Roth (Glencoe, IL: the Free Press, 1950), p. 58.

23 Ibid., p. 55–6.

24 Ibid., p. 56.

25 Ibid., p. 57.

26 Willy Gianinazzi, Naissance du mythe moderne. Georges Sorel et la crise de la pensée savante (1889–1914) (Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2006), p. 85.

27 Martha Graham quoted in Merle Armitage, Martha Graham 1937 (New York: Dance Horizons, 1966), p. 103.

28 David Gross, “Myth and Symbol in Georges Sorel”, eds. Seymour Drscher, David Sabean, Allan Sharlin, Political Symbolism in Modern Europe. Essays in Honor of George L. Mosse (New Brunswick, London: Transaction Books, 1982), p. 105.

29 Hawkins sailed for Europe on June 22, 1933 and returned on August 5th. Erick Hawkins Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress: box 77, folder 4.

30 Serenade premiered on June 10, 1934 in White Plains, New York.

31 Jean Erdman interview with Don McDonagh, October 4, 1993, Dance Collection, New York Pubic Library for the Performing Arts: *MGZTL 4–2567.

32 Joseph Campbell interviewed by Agnes DeMille, NYPL, MGZTC 3–1612. Immediate Tragedy premiered in July 1937 at Bennington. The second anti-fascist solo, Deep Song, was premiered in December 1937 in New York.

33 See Robert S. Ellwood, The Politics of Myth: A Study of C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 138–140.

34 One can note the conservative politics of the Club in its Bulletin. In the second Bulletin an editorial casts doubt over the Jungian validity of the American Artists Congress to which Graham belonged. See Gladys Taylor, Josephine Jenks Warren, “The Artist and the Life About Him,” Bulletin of the Analytical Psychology Club of New York City 1/2 (March 1939): p. 1–2.

35 Otto Rank letter to Jessie Taft quoted in E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will. The Life and Work of Otto Rank (New York: The Free Press, 1985), p. 379. Jung’s Wotan article was originally published in German in 1936 (Collected Works vol. 10, pp. 179–93). Campbell, too, was politically conservative, and far from anti-fascist. A talk he gave at Sarah Lawrence in 1941, “Permanent Human Values”, refused to give Churchill the moral high ground over Hitler. The talk was severely criticized by expatriate Thomas Mann in 1941 who had reversed his position on Naziism since the 1918 “Reflections of an Unpolitical Man”. See Ellwood, The Politics of Myth, p. 138–140. Campbell and Erdman only met with Jung personally at his retreat in Bollingen in 1953 (ibid., p. 142). Both during and after the war the American public remained impervious to the ambiguities of Jung’s statements between 1936 and 1939 about the Third Reich. According to William Graebner, Jungianism was part and parcel of forties Americanism: “Americans of the forties also explored Jung’s interest in a collective unconscious by fusing the Jungian emphasis on the collective with certain early-1940s ideas of nationalism and the ‘people’ to locate, assert, and celebrate a deep interest in ‘folk identity’.” – William Graebner, The Age of Doubt. American Thought and Culture in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991), p. 75.

36 Her dancing is preserved in the film Der Heilige Berg.

37 Barbara Morgan, “Modern Dance,” Popular Photography 16/16 (June 1945): p. 68.

38 Ibid.

39 “Dance libretto,” p. 86.

40 D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, vol. 2, ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 470.

41 Ibid., p. 470.

42 The book is, however, not entirely trustworthy. See Victoria Geduld, “Martha Graham’s Gilded Cage: Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)” forthcoming in Dance Research Journal (2013).

43 Graham cited in Wayne D. Shirley, Ballet for Martha and Ballets for Martha (Washington: Library of Congress, 1997), p. 14.

44 “The Nazi Myth,” transl. Brian Holmes, Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990): p. 304.

45 Morgan specifies: “Today great latitude of speed has become a commonplace by virtue of fast pan film emulsions, fast corrected lenses, synchroflashes, speedlamps, moviefloods, and photofloods. Action has free rein!” – The place of action in Morgan’s aesthetics of dance photography deserves further analysis. Barbara Morgan, “Dance Photography,” The Complete Photographer 18/3 (New York: National Educational Alliance, 1942): p. 1133.

46 Barbara Morgan, “Dance Into Photography,” Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs (Hastings-on-Hudson: Morgan & Morgan, 1941), p. 149.

47 Morgan, “Dance Photography”, p. 1134.

48 Morgan, “Modern Dance”, p. 68.

49 Morgan, “Dance Photography”, p. 1136.

50 Morgan, “Modern Dance”, p. 68. The effective dance photo renders “the connective movements of the overall rhythmic structure.” Bunnell, “Introduction”, p. 8.

51 Paul Ricoeur refers to this as mimesis3 in Time and Narrative, vol. 3, transl. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

52 Phillip E. Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002).

53 “Dance Libretto,” pp. 573–574.

54 Ellen Graff, Stepping Left: Dance and Politics in New York City, 1928–1942 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 125–127.

55 Lincoln Kirstein, “Dance: Martha Graham at Bennington,” The Nation, September 3, 1938, American Document clippings file, Dance Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. This review was reprinted in Ballet: Bias and Belief. Three Pamphlets Collected and Other Dance Writings of Lincoln Kirstein (New York: Dance Horizons, 1983), pp. 69–71.

56 See F.R. Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics: Political Philosophy Beyond Fact and Value (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), especially Chapter One: “Political Representation: the Aesthetic State,” pp. 21–63.

57 See Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” The Content of the Form. Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 1–25.

  • representation
  • utopia
  • Anti-fascism
  • 1930s
  • USA
  • nationalism
  • politics
  • body
  • dancing
  • photography
  • myth

My language

Selected content

Mark Franko

is Professor of Dance and Director of the Center for Visual and Performance Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the editor of Dance Research Journal. He is a UC President’s Research Faculty Fellow in the Humanities for 2010-2011. In 2008 he was Valeska Gert Visiting Professor for Dance And Performance at the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin.

Stefan Hölscher (ed.), Gerald Siegmund (ed.): Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity

This volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term "policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and Sociology.