Horizontals, The Nuremberg Trials, Accidental Feminism, and Liz Lerman

Friday, August 12 – “Hiking the Horizontal” by Liz Lerman


I spent Friday morning dealing with the always-lovely SOFO, and then I worked out before treating myself to a milkshake and laying on my absurdly soft carpet to read “Hiking the Horizontal.” I read it this past quarter for an independent study, but it never hurts to re-read.

The notion behind the title may be my favorite part of this book. Lerman starts her introduction by talking about how there’s often this conception of art as existing on a vertical spectrum–“low art” at the bottom, and “high art” at the top. The goal seems to be to reach the top, and the art at the top is supposed to be inherently more valuable than the art at the bottom. Lerman, however, argues that we should think about art as existing on a horizontal spectrum–no art is ranked higher than any other art, but they’re just different types of art that all have the same value. We can even turn the line into a circle, and explore all the different parts of it.

Lerman also talks about being an accidental feminist, or her dances having “quiet feminism” (12). She talks about how she did not set out to create a feminist work, but she is proud of the fact that people read that in her work–that she created a work that “made it okay for dance to be sexy as well as about ideas” (12). In contrast with some of the former choreographers who seemed to be adamantly against being called feminists, this was a refreshing change.

I will leave you with one last, really long quote.
A really intriguing thing that Liz Lerman writes about is when she was commissioned to create a piece about the Nuremberg trials. She writes a letter to the woman who commissioned her and asks why she thinks a dance about the Nuremberg trials will be useful, to which the woman replies:
“These are my hopes: that a dance would reach people who seldom think about mass atrocities–students, lawyers–with the chance to be drawn in emotionally and intellectually, with the pacing that can allow people to absorb or begin to absorb the incomprehensible scales of atrocity, the limits of legal responses but also the dignity in the effort to frame and respond to atrocities through law. For those who think about these matters often . . . the chance to imagine images and voices about these things, and to have a shared experience with others who seldom attend these issues, would be a gift. The central problematics rather than more information would be a valuable focus. And rather than the typical academic discussion that implies the capacity of logic, empiricism, and argument to contain, resolve or manage an issue, the dance might give people experience dwelling with the problematics” (Lerman 88).