Alessandra’s (micro) history

Note from the editor (Jeso): In Pascal Rambert’s upcoming A (micro) history of world economics, danced, 50 participants come together to share their personal economic histories as well as reflect on our collective histories over centuries of time. Alessandra Calabi, a participant in the NY iteration opening this weekend, gave us her thoughts and (micro) history…

We sit. We write. Some lean against the wall, some lie on their back. We write more. We do not write about economics, not about our knowledge or experience of it. We do not write about history. We do not write about dance. We have no prompt. The stories that are written and read aloud are honest reflections of a moment of being inside this community we now belong to. What are we doing?

From the Greek oikos, the word for home, and nomos, custom or law, comes our word, economics. In the ancient Greek polis, economics included all those practices confined to the private realm of the home. The economic, as the necessity of sustaining life itself, was a task reserved for slaves and women to be performed behind household walls. Today, economic reality has exploded out of the home to become the defining aspect of our existence. To be is to make a living, to have a career, to get into that particular school that will guarantee your career, to get that particular agent that will guarantee your career – to assert oneself in the context of the economy and of labor. And the totality of our everyday life has become an incredible process of consumption: all that surrounds us is something we can and must consume. How is it, then, that this same life seems to take matters of economics completely out of our hands, making it so easy to consider them as a given, as something we should leave to the experts and not concern ourselves with (but hope that our rent won’t be raised again this year, that the insurance will cover those absurdly expensive hospital charges, that maybe we will win the lottery and that will solve all of our problems). Economics is no more the necessity of the home in a particular community – it is a specialized, apolitical science with its neutral rules and laws, accessed only by few, moved by an invisible hand. Is this the right history? This is one of the concerns that I think A (micro) history of world economics, danced is trying to address. The other is to bring together simple stories of existence and necessity, and the bodies they belong to.

My story is that of a full-time philosophy student, part-time intern at a downtown theater company, and some-time performer. This rehearsal process has unfolded in parallel with my studies of Plato, Aristotle, Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt, and I could not say which has informed the other most. There is incredibly grounding knowledge to be found in a collective of strangers from diverse walks of life that comes together to create a piece of work. “Men are conditioned beings”, Arendt says in the first chapter of The Human Condition – and man is a particular animal because the conditions of our being are artificial and self-created, not only given by nature. If labor is the reproduction and repetition of biological processes and life itself, work is what creates a common world, that worldliness whose permanence resists the short life span of an individual man and assures the existence of this shared and shareable world for those who will inhabit it in the near and distant future. By this understanding, work can be a chair, a table, or a work of art. It is the library I spend far too many hours in, and it is Einstein on the Beach. It is something that does not necessarily dissolve in its consumption, but whose life extends to become a part of that incredible accumulation of objects, words and things that make up our shared world. Arendt also speaks of the community as “a place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective”. To act and to speak in public is a political act, and to be able to do so is a political right. But we must speak to someone, to be heard by someone or many. As a philosopher, I am concerned with the ever-shrinking realm of political action and the possibility of finding rehabilitation in the realm of culture. As an artist, I am concerned with being part of communities that somehow resist the impositions of standards and demands driven by an insatiable economy that has gotten out of control. In A (micro) history of world economics, danced, my words and movements find a place to tell a story that will be seen and heard, and will hopefully matter.

In his 2005 Nobel Lecture entitled “Art, Truth and Politics”, Harold Pinter begins with the following words:

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false. I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?”

There is no absolute truth in dramatic art. The exploration of reality that drives it amounts to the juxtaposition of many truths that reflect each other, challenge each other, are blind to each other. When we create a play and populate it with characters and actors, we always present an alternative social structure to the one in which we find ourselves. How many stories can we tell? How many worlds apart is the reality of the stage from the reality of life? Which truths do each contain? The vast tapestry of lies woven around us and upon which we feed, in Pinter’s words, is punctured by the creation of communities that come together to write and tell stories that claim another sort of truth from the ones fed to us by our parents, our teachers, our governments. These micro histories are attempts to approach and define the real truth of our lives and our societies, a crucial obligation we should all be determined to fulfill.

A (micro) history of world economics, danced is co-presented by La MaMa, etc, Performance Space 122 and French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line 2013 Festival.

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