Dance Research Journal


Dance and Subtraction: Notes on Alain Badiou's Inaesthetics

Jonathan Owen Clark

In an essay entirely devoted to the subject of dance in Alain Badiou's Handbook of Inaesthetics [Petit manuel d'inesthétique (Badiou 2005b)], we find the following contentious statement: “Dance is not an art, because it is the sign of the possibility of art as inscribed in the body” (69). At first glance, this statement seems strangely familiar to the reader versed in writing about dance, particularly philosophical writing. “Dance is not an art”: Badiou critiques Mallarmé as not realizing this as the true import of his ideas. It is familiar because it attests to a certain problem in aesthetic thinking, one that relates to the placement and position of dance and the works that comprise its history into what can be seen as certain evaluative hierarchies, particularly vis à vis the relation of dance to other art forms, and in particular, those involving speech and writing. Dance seems to suffer from a certain marginalization, subtraction, or exclusion, and its practice seems to occupy a place of the perennial exception, problem, or special case. The strangeness of the statement, on the other hand, relates to the widespread view outside of academic writing that the status of dance “as art” is actually completely unproblematic. What follows therefore is a critical commentary on this assertion of Badiou, placed both in the context of Badiou's writing, and in the wider one pertaining to the problem of exclusion just outlined.

(Online publication February 09 2012)

Dr. Jonathan Owen Clark is the head of research at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, where he manages a doctoral research program in aesthetics and creative practice. He was previously a faculty member at the International Centre for Music Studies, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and his research interests include philosophy, aesthetics, and psychoanalysis.