The Wing and the Fan

March 18, 2015 § 1 Comment

There is a fascinating passage in Michel Foucault’s Language, Madness, and Desire (University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2015) on the analysis of spatiality in literary language, specifically, in the work of Mallarmé. In his discussion, he references the figures of the fan and the wing, analyzed by Jean-Pierre Richard in his book on Mallarmé.

This space of Mallarméan objects, this space of the Mallarméan lake, is also the space of his words. For example, take the values that have been analyzed, rather brilliantly, by Jean-Pierre Richard, the values of the fan and the wing in Mallarmé. The fan and the wing, when open, have this property of concealing from view: the wing conceals the bird from sight because of its fullness, the fan masks the face. The wing and the fan conceal from view, they hide, they provide security and remoteness, but they conceal only to the extent that they expose, that is, to the extent that we find exposed the iridescent richness of the wing or the very design of the fan. But when closed, on the contrary, the wing allows us to see the bird, the fan allows us to see the face, they allow us to approach, they allow what they recently concealed when open to be grasped by the gaze or the hand; but as soon as they are folded, they envelop, they hide everything that was exposed to view when they were open. So, the wing and the fan form the ambiguous moment of unveiling, which is the moment of enigma as well; they form the moment of the veil stretched across whatever there is to see and, also, the moment of absolute display.

Could this be applied to tango as well? To styles of dance? To stage tango and social tango? In stage, or performance tango, the dancers are, for the most part, disjoined, separate, linked in an open, flexible and discontinuous embrace, one that provides maximum freedom of movement and articulation. But these bodies, deployed as they are, like the wing and the fan that when closed reveal the grace and symmetry of the bird or the beauty of the face, conceal any trace of intimacy, any sign of connectedness. What is given is public and for display. Beautiful and rich, yes, but, in turning their “face” to the audience, the dancers are cut off from the “sight” of each other.

When we embrace in tango, within the “abrazo” that is characteristic of the dance and gives it its meaning, we are in many respects closed off, concealed from the world around us. Not on stage, but on view, we display little of ourselves to others and everything to ourselves. Like the fan that has been snapped open to conceal the face behind it, in the embrace, we diminish or even eliminate any outside participation in what we, as a couple, experience. But in doing so, we reveal everything to our partner and to ourselves. Within the space of the embrace, we are free to approach one another, gaze at one another, hear one another, feel one another. Minimally exposed to the world, we are maximally exposed to each other.

In tango, we are most vulnerable when concealed, least vulnerable when most visible.

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