“GRAMMAR is politics by other means.” – Donna J. Haraway
Cássio Diniz Santiago
Grammar is understood to be the whole organisation of language and, by bringing a system and structure to language, its organisation can be extended even further ‒ to life. Grammar also produces limits and gaps in its organisation process. When producing its possibilities, grammar also casts aside values that can no longer be expressed – values produced by what inhabits the living body, for instance, but find no form of expression, even when they are deeply present.
Somehow, life is what is beyond the word life – it is something outside the grammar. The knowledge of the body, however, underlies all grammars or sign regimes. The body, even though formally excluded in much of the culture that predominates in the Western world, always remains with its latent worlds to come, almost as cultural interference (or it manifests itself as a machine destroying the affections that compose it). Often, the body remains as an invisible force field that can be felt but cannot be fully expressed through established grammar.
What gets stuck in the throat is also a consequence of grammar and its value mechanisms. For example, something can be clearly perceived by the body but nevertheless fail to attribute values to intangibles such as life, art, care and the environment, if there is no grammar that contains the possibility of expressing these values. It is as if the grammar predetermines the events, while at the same time it is itself formed by the events of the past, present, and the projections of the future.
What’s going on right now?
Worlds are disappearing, being destroyed and new ones are being created – different worlds that are part of what is considered the world – the tremendous living organism called planet Earth (anyway, this idea/perception is back in fashion!).
This great living organism, which also includes the production of subjectivity within its network of interdependencies, cannot be designed (designing the world is an old, pretentious idea that is part of the old developments in Western culture), but a grammar for its multiplicity can.
All species and peoples share the same planet, and all make up the same great and diverse living organism. But at the moment, other species and peoples do not share the same resources, the same rights and preferences, or even the same right to exist.
However, in this pandemic moment, it has become more than evident that the condition of the life of one affects that of all the others. The interchangeable intertwined “you” and “I” (the only pronouns that exist or feel alive), and the socio-political-economic implications for how the virtual “we” can become actual.
How might we imagine a regenerative grammar capable of germinating latent worlds in the body where you and I can exist?
As a grammar expressing other modes of life (and its organisation), a poiesis (or rather, a sympoiesis) within the critique of capitalism that opens space for other perspectives that are difficult to even dream about.
There is an experience of the world as one: as a monoculture, as a monolithic perspective of a species that seeks to dominate all others, as well as space, time, bodies, criticism, feelings, cultures, relationships, learning skills, markets, the moon and Mars.
The world is swamped and haunted by an excess of papers with phantom words, concepts displaced from context that, nevertheless, determines the past, present and future ‒ directly affecting and restricting all aspects of life by the expression of a single index.
It is the grammar of extractive-predatory culture that destroys life, the environment and relationships. It reduces ways of organising and living into a single logic, based on profit. The profit logic does not value regenerative activities with social logic related to art, care, the environment, mutual relations, or even the right to exist for different species and peoples.
Right now, new ways of living and organisation are an urgent need. However, there are seeds of these new worlds that will come in many fields, such as political economy, the politics of care, concepts of art, the design of institutions and the design of a grammar to express multiple values.
An important example comes from the Economic Space Agency through the development of a new grammar for the economy where the multiplicity of values associated with care, art and intangibles does not collapse in a single expression. It is a post-capitalist grammar capable of transforming modes of organisation and transforming the economy (governance of life) into a design space.
How can we design a shared cosmo/local grammar that provides access between diverse worlds but, at the same time, does not erase the dialects that are somehow the most fundamental expression of different ways of life?
I raised these issues in an online conversation with Ailton Krenak, an indigenous leader and environmentalist. He replied (my transcription includes his meaningful breaks and pauses): “A characteristic of this immense constellation of peoples ‒ who managed to constitute resilience, including those who were practically exterminated, who remained half a dozen and who returned to reconstitute a cell of creative life ‒ it seems that is the radical diversity, a radical diversity. This radical diversity would be like imagining an organism capable of pluralising in a way that … the other … the other … almost a paradox, it has to be so open, so that it does not configure any system … It doesn’t set up a system, and I find it interesting that the form of a tribe still prevails in our time. The idea of a tribe is perhaps the most radical model of this plurality because one tribe is not the same as another, but they are tribes. And someone can say: ‘But you are proposing that we go back to tribalism, that we go back ten thousand years ago in the organisations of the polis. You mean that it was a deviation from the Greeks that we came to these pandemic cities of today.’ No, it was not a deviation from the Greeks; it was a lack of plurality because there could be a deviation from the Greeks and the other possible deviations, but it seems that we were very much in the mood for a monoculture when we adopted the Greeks … we adopted the Greeks and sacrificed the Trojans.”
To consider the existence of different tribes is to consider the existence of different value regimes and the need for other expressions of values.
Imagining a grammar in an art context (with its innate processes for generating forms) almost always includes its criticism and deconstruction. Somehow, due to the way a work of art manifests itself, the gaps or lacks are also articulated, expanding the system and the structure to encompass knowledge, forces and pulses that are normally left out, or remain invisible, although present.
This reflection on grammar was born from the experience of the performance S.C.H.U.U.L.E. (Susann Maria Hempel/Cássio Diniz Santiago, 2018‒19) which is set in a classroom, where twelve professors impart unconventional knowledge. It was the place of knowledge for a tribe made up of people who did not find a tribe to which to belong but still formed a tribe.
The aesthetic concept behind the performance was built on differences, needs, difficulties, but also on feelings of being alive, and on handling the complexity of what Bojana Kunst addresses in a recent essay as “caring with”: “Imagining is a rewarding task, but only if it is done together, collectively, as a process and a practice that happens from below and in the middle of the differences between us.”
The choreography was built from fragments of gestures and intensities from the whole tribe (performance group), while being based on very personal movements. Dance in S.C.H.U.U.L.E. has always been directed at the other (or in front of the other), for instance in a speech or lecture provoking reactions. These were also part of the choreography, composing a grammar of movements full of slang, mistakes, stutters, hesitations, portrayed in a plurality of body dialects.
The choreography culminated by leaving traces on the blackboard during the dance, producing marks, patterns, letters and drawings on it. So, the blackboard remained as an index (another system and structure, and therefore a grammar) of the event/experience, but it is also capable of producing new events, experiences and dances.
The blackboard worked as a way of organising the body dispositions into a grammar, expressing a moment that can and cannot be repeated. It was strange and yet familiar, but always included elements coming from the urgency of life with its relationships and the body at the exact moment.
From this experience, the question arose: How can we collectively imagine a living, regenerative grammar that will include life itself with all its multiplicity, needs and changes?
In other words (and combining the words of Economic Space Agency and Bojana Kunst): “a portfolio of claims and obligations to maximise not the single index of profit, but the “caring with”in its entire universe of different qualities and affects”.
Donna J. Haraway, “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature”. Akseli Virtanen, “Economic Space Agency: An Economic Grammar for Post-Capitalism” and Benjamin Lee, “Distributed Network Protocols as a Metapragmatic Grammar”, CES Summit ’19 (October 2019). “Beyond the time of the right care: A letter to the performance artist” by Bojana Kunst, April 2020. Ailton Krenak, “Environment in the Pandemic – Lives of Knowledge”, University of Fortaleza, Brazil May 2020.
This text is part of the research for the film project Grammar by Cássio Diniz Santiago, scheduled to premiere in 2022. Three conversations – with Jean-Baptiste Joly, Akseli Virtanen and Susann Maria Hempel ‒ were especially important for this film project.
*1973 in São Paulo, lives in Greiz
Cássio Diniz Santiago is a performance artist, theatre and dance director, dramaturg, researcher and teacher. He studied Performing Arts at the State University of Campinas, Brazil and attended the MA course in Choreography and Performance at Giessen University. He was a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, using performance art as a research tool in the field of economy. His performance, theatre, dance and multidisciplinary art projects have been shown at the São Paulo Biennial, the Modern Art Museum of São Paulo, the Baltic Circle Theatre Festival, the Akademie der Künste and the Mousonturm, among others.More about Cássio Diniz Santiago