To Sing and to Dance, to Think and to Fight: An Actor’s Second Nervous System
ABSTRACT This two-part essay is on the erotics of pedagogy or education of the senses through learning how to learn from images and sounds of cinema as manifestations of rhythm. Part one creates a conceptual framework derived from the archives on Neurological Modernity and Theatre Anthropology, so as to develop the concept of a “Second Nervous System” which animates performers in the great Asian and European civilizational traditions of performance. Their relevance to early twentieth century European avant-garde performance and cinema and to contemporary transcultural work in performance provides a mobile, flexible, conceptual framework for thinking with film. Part two activates this network of rhythmic connections so as to explore, observe, analyse and learn from the film Khayal Gatha by Kumar Shahani, which is, among other things, about the conditions of transmissibility of cultural traditions after colonialism and political independence. A question drives this essay in memory of Paul Willemen. In the emerging “Asian Century” will we, the peoples of the Asia-Pacific zones of contact, be able to take cues from the anthropology of theatre to create “a thousand and one” transversal story lines on “a thousand plateaus” across the globe and beyond, with cinema/film as our mentor?
Keywords: Kumar Shahani, Paul Willemen, Claire Johnston, Eugenio Barba, Walter Spies, Neurological Modernity, Second Nervous System, Film Acting, Epic Cinema, Anthropology of Theatre.
Laleen Jayamanne teaches cinema studies in the Department of art History and Film Studies, University of Sydney. She is the author of Towards Cinema and Its Double: Cross Cultural Mimesis (Indiana University Press, 2001). She directed the film A Song of Ceylon, (Australian Film Commission, 1986) and is currently completing a book on the cinema of Kumar Shahani on epic cinema called Cinematographic Avatars: Kumar Shahani and Others, for Indiana University Press.