“Culture as gesture, producing always more and other than it intends.”

by Brian Bergen-Aurand


I’ve spent the last two days rereading sections of Carrie Noland’s 2009 book, Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Culture, and I’m even more impressed with it this second time around. I enjoyed reading the book and learned a good deal from it the first time I encountered it about a year ago. Now, having dived back into it, I would highly recommend it for anyone doing body studies, cultural studies, and/or phenomenological studies and aesthetics.

In the introduction, Noland writes:

The hypothesis I advance in this book is that kinesthetic experience, produced by acts of embodied gesturing, places pressure on the conditioning a body receives, encouraging variations in performance that account for larger innovations in cultural practice that cannot otherwise be explained. (3)


I offer a model that is capable of navigating between the two most influential theories of subjective agency in circulation today: on the one hand a determinist, constructivist theory that depicts subjects as pliant material on which culture inscribes and on the other a neovitalist approach that tends to exaggerate the subject’s capacity to express and fashion itself. (8)

Noland is writing at the junction of culture, biology, posture/movement/gesture, and presenting a theory of “body awareness” that engages science, aesthetics, sociality, and critique in a much needed conversation. Her goal is to rethink agency and embodiment through a theory of kinesthesia engaged with dance, graffiti, digital poetry, and several other aesthetic experiences in order to think through the relation among norms, repetitions, and potentials. An important gesture toward creativity.


Migration of Gesture, Carrie Noland and Sally Ann Ness, editors, 2008

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