Postmodernism: the hollowing out effect of ironic word salad in tango discourse

There can be a recognizable wardrobe for both leaders and followers in tango; beyond the pleated pants and spandex dip-hem skirts. When traveling for festivals and events where there are hundreds even a thousand plus dancers there are ways to speculate who might be an exquisite dancer. Is that leader over there a silent storm milonguero or the showy dancer who prefers an open embrace? A white belt can speak volumes.

Most of my memorable dances to date have been with women leaders …

I’ve been told by women leaders that how they lead is grown out of what they want for themselves as a follow. If I miss something, a woman leader will reassure me with a little friendship squeeze.

F#$%^&g Tango Blog

There are developments in the tango world that may be puzzling, especially to someone familiar with the tango tradition. They certainly seem to have nothing to do with tango and yet are becoming mainstream. These developments need to be addressed. But in order to address them things need to be said that are politically incorrect. For those that claim to be ignorant of this, either they are being dishonest, or they’ve been living under a rock.

To understand these developments we need to understand Postmodernism as a strategy that on the surface appears innocuous as it infects all aspects of society, but is actually a malevolent strategy to take over the social practices and institutions that it infects through a creative and manipulative use of language. While there appears to be no logic to it but instead it is marked by apparently random and illogical use of language such as the use of apparently meaningless verbosity or word salad, it has very specific goals, namely, to subvert and undermine.

While these strategies seem harmless, they have been developed by a number of intellectuals precisely because they achieve their stated goals of undermining traditional social structures and replacing them with a different type of society that they view as more desirable. As Stephen Hicks argues in his book Explaining Postmodernism, this movement arose out of the failure of communism in the Soviet Union and the need to change strategies to achieve the objectives of those who thought that communism was a desirable social system.

Innocuous constituencies

Postmodernism as a group strategy is enabled by two constituencies that are superficially innocuous supporters of the virulent strains that operate on the front lines, namely, (a) postmodern consumers including liberated women and metrosexual men; and (b) postmodern academics in most humanities departments of universities and in the arts establishment. The postmodern consumers support the idea that we have the right to creatively redefine ourselves including experimenting with sex roles through our consumer choices (F&^%$#g Tango Blog is an example of this).

At the level of academia, intellectuals in France (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard), and the US (Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty) have made strategic moves to make it respectable to dismiss clear, logical and constructive thinking and action, and replace it with what I call an academic sounding Ironic Word Salad that undermines logic, science, reason, statistics. The aim is to legitimize consumption preferences, personal liberation, immediate gratification and superfluous emotional responses as having equal validity as foundations for opinion and action to any scientific, technical, or authoritative analysis, so that it views the latter in inverted commas as ‘scientific’, ‘technical’ or ‘authoritative’.

This is relevant to tango because tango has always been based on clearly defined modes of conduct which emphasises courtesy and conformity to sex roles. As you can see from the writing quoted above, these are being actively rejected in otherwise apparently jovial and innocuous manner. The markers of postmodernism are all there: emphasis on personal choice over conformity to traditional rules and roles, thinly disguised hostility to men, who are viewed as necessary but ultimately disposable, ironic use of language in verbose word salad or associative stream of consciousness writing that puts subjective experience on the same level or even higher than reason, logic or long-term thinking, and the use of vulgar language in the title of the blog to signal membership of a ‘radical’ transgressive avant-garde.

The innocuous aspect of this is due to the superficial openness to everything and anything and strategic avoidance of (a) any conflict or opposition, (b) claims of right or wrong, or (c) of truth or falsehood. As you read the Word Salad you get a general sense of agreeableness. The hostility to men is never explicitly stated (even though it is implied) so that the author does not need at any point to defend anything or take a stance, and can use more word salad to back out of a losing argument. Everything is stated in subjective and personal terms insulated from any need for argument or debate, and yet its effects are no different then truth claims in legitimating certain attitudes, eg., to same-sex dancing, attitudes to men, etc.

Postmodernism is a parasitic linguistic strategy to invade and take over a social system like tango with the ultimate effect of hollowing it out due to the effect of ‘leveling’ or as they call it ‘equity’. The ‘patriarchy’ that it despises so much and seeks to disestablish is actually the mechanism that builds the systems that make available all those consumer choices. These traditional structures function by rewarding success with status. Status incentivises high-IQ, high-testosterone individuals—men or women—to create highly effective systems that provide all that we have available.

When you undermine this system, the competitive process and subsequently its products, are hollowed out and depleted. Thus, women may prefer to dance with other women, but that practice is parasitic on dancing with men while having a detrimental effect on men’s dancing, which then reinforces the contemptuous attitude to men, and so on in a downward spiral. A good way to expose the toxicity of the above-quoted statements are is to simply switch the terms, so now the author is a man who writes as a leader as follows:

Most of my memorable dances to date have been with male followers …

I’ve been told by male followers that how they follow has grown out of what they want for themselves as a lead. If I miss something, a male follower will reassure me with a little friendship squeeze.

I leave it to the reader whether this sounds either metrosexual, homosexual, misogynist, all of the above or none of the above. This is the true power of the Postmodernist Word Salad: it is left up to the reader to interpret but has the general tendency to challenge categories, traditional sex roles, distinctions and hierarchies, ie., it tacitly aims to confuse and ultimately to subvert.

A case study of this process of hollowing out is Contact Improvisation (henceforth CI) which was created around 1970 by the choreographer Steve Paxton. When you look at videos on YouTube of the early contact improvisers you see highly physical and skilled movers taking risks and creating a new form. Paxton is a highly original and yet highly structured and logical thinker who has employed insights from somatics and martial arts to develop the theory and practice of CI.

What has subsequently happened is that CI has been transformed in dance departments of universities and their academic journals into a “Postmodern Dance” that is ‘liberating” and “transgressive”, that challenges categories, distinctions and hierarchies, and is thus anti-ablist. It replaces technical training with techniques such as Body-Mind Centering that help participants to regress to your primitive, child-like, amoeba-like, state. This is only loosely representative of somatic practices which originally aimed to promote natural movement to help towards development and maturity rather than “developmental movement” in which one regresses to some primitive state of babyhood.

So here we can see how the language of somatic movement and CI is distorted in the direction away from technical and physical development (which is discriminatory and “ablist”) and in the direction of inclusivity, anti-ablism, transgression, equity and “liberation”. These days, when you visit a contact improvisation gathering or festival you don’t see much actual contact-ing because partner dancing demands technical skills. What you see instead is a lot of random and pointless movement to random and pointless noise. There is still contact improvisation in there somewhere but the practice has been hollowed out by postmodernist strategies of manipulation and distortion of language.

This is important because tango is inherently dependent on good manners, conformity to sex roles and the systematic and conscientious development of dancing skills. When social structures supporting these are undermined through strategic, ironic, transgressive and subjectivist use of language, vulgar language, word salad, personal preferences as to partners, thinly disguised contempt for men, tango will be hollowed out in the same way. Instead of following a learning path towards competence and polite and orderly conduct at tango events, one will find, as one already finds, short-term thinking, lack of uniformity of skill, consumptive behaviour, fads, and competitiveness.

To summarise, postmodernist linguistic strategiesappear innocuous but are actually deliberate and systematic, and succeed at hollowing out traditional social structures by undermining categories, distinctions and hierarchies. These strategies emanate out of universities and the arts establishment that promote subjectivism, ‘liberation’, and transgressive use of language and artistic representation relating to such things as traditional social norms in order to ridicule and reject them.

The fact is that traditional social structures—the so-called ‘patriarchy’—that have developed in the West, are not oppressive but have generated liberal societies that have benefitted everyone including women. While there are certain short-term benefits for the consumption-oriented women who tacitly support postmodernist strategies they will be hurt by this in the long run at these strategies hollow out the practices they participate in and they find themselves bored and disillusioned.

Further reading

Steven Hicks Explaining Postmodernism