The spring of action: in butō improvisation

In Routledge Handbook Philosophy of Improvisation in the Arts. London: Routledge (forthcoming)

Carla Bagnoli
University of Modena
This chapter discusses butō dance as an example of improvisation that challenges not only the extant philosophical definitions of improvisation, but also some fundamental presumptions about self-government and agency that are current in action theory. In the first part of the chapter, I identify the main features of butō improvisation, with regard to the nature of its basic movement, and the kind of subjectivity implicated in its generation. I then raise some questions regarding the philosophical characterization of this form of dance, and in the second part of the paper, I argue that butō improvisation undermines the intuitive distinctions between “ordinary” and “specialized action”, thereby eluding both the philosophical rationalistic theories of action as mediated by intentions, and the theories of arational action as expressive of individual subjectivity. My claim is that butō can be better interpreted as a shared action which is neither mediated by intentions nor expressive of the individual self, meant to generate a community by sharing the experience of the living body. This characterization has the advantage that it helps to put in the right perspective the puzzle about the normative standards of improvised action, which is addressed in the third part of the chapter. According to Nelson Goodman, improvisation as such undermines the very idea of a normative paradigm against which to evaluate possible solutions. In the case of butō, the absence of normative standards of action (e.g., success, correctness, or rightness) may be also connected to the absence of a subject in charge of his action. This is because butō improvisation does not count on the dancer as a pre-defined subject existing prior to and independently of her performance. In contrast to these interpretations, I hold that there are normative criteria for butō improvisation, which govern its explorative and generative functions by a training based on unselfing. This model turns away from the rhetoric of spontaneous free movements and the search for individual authenticity. It advocates for a model of intentional agency that it is not mediated by (individual or joint) intentions, but aspires to generate a community by sharing the experience of a living emotional body.
Keywords action theory  dance theory  buto dance  responsibility  practical knowledge  collective action
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 59,058
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Improvisation in the Arts.Aili Bresnahan - 2015 - Philosophy Compass 10 (9):573-582.
One Among Many: Responsibility and Alienation in Mass Action.Carla Bagnoli - forthcoming - In Chiara Valentini Teresa Marquez (ed.), Collective Action, Philosophy and the Law. London: Routledge.
Unintentional Collective Action.Sara Rachel Chant - 2007 - Philosophical Explorations 10 (3):245 – 256.


Added to PP index

Total views

Recent downloads (6 months)

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes