‘Monstrous’, Unruly Movements

Nicole Land thinking with Andrea Thomas, Selena Ha, Maria Wysocki and Alicja Frankowski

The sand area in the playground is studded with cut stumps from trees that were uprooted along the other side of the building. These stumps stand as tiny adult thigh-height towers. Climbing on to and jumping off of these stumps is a very interesting way of moving with the playground, and for a few weeks the children often climb and jump barefoot off the stumps. As we moved within the sand with the children, paying careful attention to how we all move with the tree stumps, we began to notice there’s many questions and ways of noticing unfolding: there’s ideas of rules and unfamiliarity (“was this really okay to go barefoot and to jump off the log?”), relations with sand and skin and tree stumps and towels, questions of why and how jumping happens, and curiosities about how we can understand barefoot-sand movements as a collective, situated, unique event.

Barefoot jumping movements feel big – immense, unruly, willful, sweeping. These movements make and take up space. But, they aren’t big in the way we often think of ‘gross motor movements’ as big (whole bodies, large equipment to challenge bodies). They’re big, but big in their turbulence; in the way heels hit sand and smush it, and wet sand slides out from under feet, and logs lend height and flatness. As we thought about moving and unruly, messy movements, I suggested we turn to “Individuating ‘sparks’ and ‘flickers’ of ‘a life’ in dance practices with preschoolers: The ‘monstrous child’ of Colebrook’s Queer Vitalism” by Lenz Taguchi, Palmer, and Gustafsson (2016).

In my reading of the article, the authors think with Claire Colebrook’s analysis of Frankenstein’s ‘monstrousness’ as a refusal to conform to taken-for-granted Euro-Western understandings of subjectivity, where humans are supreme, bounded, civil, and the centre of all concerns/worlds. For me, in the authors’ reading, Colebrook argues that monstrousness is monstrous in how it orients toward subjectivities (and ways of being in the world) that are unfamiliar, that refuse to follow what it means to be a good Human. Lenz Taguchi, Palmer, and Gustafsson (2016) extend this to thinking with preschoolers’ dance practices to argue that dance practices can become monstrous when they refute romanticized, developmental, and unitary (individual children citizens) images of childhood. They offer that “Becoming-Monstrous-Child in this essay thus constitutes a process and play beyond norms and beyond what we constitute or recognize as a common-sense (Hu)Man and Child” (p. 707). I hear them arguing that dance movements take on a monstrous character when children move with materials, sound, affect, response-ability, and relations that do not allow for assessing individual children’s skills or following pre-determined dance curriculum – and, therefore, when children invent different, unfamiliar ways of being in the world. Monstrousness is unruly in its creativity and possibilities. 

This, I think, connects to what we were wondering with barefoot jumping and logs: what happens when we take moving and jumping and sand as monstrous (unruly, uncontainable, uncategorizable, creative, inventive, affirmative) problems? What happens if we think with barefoot-sand moments when they become monstrous, when they no longer conform to our taken-for-granted ideas about childhood (and development and behaviour and human-centeredness and curriculum)? What might we notice with children? What might we create with children with monstrous movements?

Lenz Taguchi, Palmer, and Gustafsson (2016) argue that, while moving, we become “an emerging (virtual) body – a becomingchild – as an effect of connections and encounters in these assemblages of practice. Hence, these practices can be seen to release a potential monstrosity. It can be perceived as a monstrosity because we do not feel, live, or determine our lives as Selves, Subjects, or Subjectivities in the way we are used to. Rather, we get to perceive ourselves as a differential power for which it is only possible to, ex post facto, witness itself and its connection to the world beyond normativity” (p. 713). Movement becomes monstrous when we refuse to bound ourselves as moving Subjects; as sovereign individual children jumping off the log. Monstrous movements, perhaps, give language to the ‘bigness’ of log jumping: these movements are monstrous because they draw us into a more-than-human collective: jumping happens with sand, rules, educator’s bodies, climbing, falling, fear, coldness, tree stumps, not having socks, children’s bodies, heel imprints, rain, towels, thunder, and sticks.

Lenz Taguchi, Palmer, and Gustafsson (2016) continue: “these practices counteract the idea of bodies being performed to become perfected and definite wholes – developmentally appropriate child bodies – while performing functional bodily movements. Instead, they open up a possibility for the children to be part of a body – an assemblage – that does not consist of organized and functional parts or forces (Colebrook, 2014b, p. 23). Rather, this is an assemblage of acts and performances, moments, and functions that performs a body. This assemblage composes and performs a body that in its complexity never takes on a final or definite form or wholeness, but engages in exploring new and other possibilities of what a body might be and become productive of” (p. 710). I’m curious what happens if we try to understand how bodies invent, and Lenz Taguchi, Palmer, and Gustafsson argue, relations that shape how bodies can move when we no longer think of children’s bodies with the logics of developmentally appropriate practice, which produce bodies as bounded individuals capable of only certain skills.

I wonder how all of the complexities (or features or conditions) of moving in this place might be participants who help shape, together, how bodies move when barefoot within the sandbox: how do sand, rules, educator’s bodies, climbing, falling, fear, coldness, tree stumps, not having socks, children’s bodies, heel imprints, rain, towels, thunder, sticks collectively ask bodies to move in particular ways? How do we notice these ways of moving? And why might this matter? For me, as I think with how all of these features or conditions might not be inert “influences” on movement but might instead actively be part of how moving happens, it makes me want to think more about how movement is a collective thing – and this makes me want to pay less attention to naming the movements of particular children, and instead makes me want to ask questions about how moving within this place happens with children and educators and more-than-human others. It makes me curious about how movements happen as, for example, a response to, or collision between, children’s barefeet and sand. When I ask this question, it draws my attention toward these moments of slipping and scratching and tumbling between skin and sand and I need to take these seriously in their complexity as I think about how I try to understand what happens – what if I don’t think of “falling” as a thing I already know, but instead try to think about falling as something particular that happened here in relation between children and sand and coldness and barefeet? What if I put at risk what I know as “jumping” and instead consider how jumping happens as this unique collective way of moving that has a bunch of human and more-than-human participants?

What I think is something I want to hang on to is that monstrousness is about how bodies and movement become productive in a collective, in a group – if we give up on seeing “the child” as a unitary, individual, developmental subject who performs certain movement skills that we already know, then monstrous moments are about connection, complexity, process, and being implicated. This, I think, potentially extends our thinking with some of the barefeet sand moments: if we think these moments for their monstrousness, we need to attend to how connection, complexity, process, and being implicated in common worlds happen here, in these small moments. What happens when we jump off trees that were killed/cut down and take on a different liveliness with barefeet and sand – what relations are created? Why do these matter? What bigger stories are jumping and sand and barefeet entangled with?  

 

Colebrook, C. (2014b). Sex after life: Essays on extinction (Vol. 2). Michigan: Open Humanities Press.

Taguchi, H. L., Palmer, A., & Gustafsson, L. (2016). Individuating ‘sparks’ and ‘flickers’ of ‘a life’ in dance practices with preschoolers: the ‘monstrous child’ of Colebrook’s Queer Vitalism. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education37(5), 705-716.

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