Abstract

This project examines the performance Thousand Hands Bodhisattva by hearing impaired dancers and the ways in which the invisible disability might provoke divergent viewing experiences and feelings contingent upon how the performance is contextualized. This performance showcases formal dancing techniques to elicit the sensation of beauty and the valorization of virtuosity, the presumed spectating responses to the aesthetic value of the performance. However, if the external knowledge of the dancers' disability is prefigured to the spectators, the contextualized performance would stir unexpected responses among the viewers, such as a feeling of shame, admiration and so on, because their taken-for-granted assumptions are challenged that beauty is unquestionably associated with completeness, wholeness, and ability, and that disabled individuals are radically less self-sufficient than the able-bodied. Eventually, I attempt to argue that this performance exemplifies a certain type of queer formalism because, by simultaneously sticking with the conventional form of dance while mobilizing the sensation of disability to queer the viewing experience, it disrupts the presupposed, normative and predictable relationship between an artistic form and its reception.


Feeling Beauty

In 2014, Beijing held the annual meeting of APEC leaders, 1 during which a gala was staged. Touching on key elements that are uniquely Chinese, including Peking and Sichuan opera, minority folk dance and martial arts, all performances were particularly formal not only in the sense that they conformed to their artistic conventions, but also because forms per se were deployed as Chinese cultural designations immediately familiar to non-Chinese audiences. If the show could in any way be understood as "political," it is through the ideas of love and harmony that are pervasive in Chinese culture as well as embedded in the Chinese political agenda: to cooperate collectively to bring about a harmonious world. Thus, no one should have been surprised to see a Buddhist dance performance as part of the show's finale. Buddhism has fully saturated Chinese culture since its introduction in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 220), 2 influencing China in virtually all aspects of its social, economic, political, and environmental development; in addition, Buddhist core philosophical teachings believe that there is the "underlying unity of all existence," 3 indicating the necessity of developing compassion to all that is around us, and of embracing a righteous way of living to establish pleasing interrelationships between individuals. 4

This particular dance performance was called Qian Shou Guanyin, translated as Thousand Hands Bodhisattva, exhibiting the deity of Guanyin who has been enjoying arguably the most active cults in China. "Guan" (also written as "Kuan") means to look, to observe and to understand, and "yin" means sound. While the literal meaning of the deity's name is perceiver of sounds, for both Chinese Buddhist practitioners and the general populace, Guanyin represents "a compassionate universal savior who responds to anyone's cry for help regardless of class, gender, or even moral qualifications." 5 Thus, after its introduction, Guanyin went through a process of transformation and domestication that gradually but dramatically granted the deity with Chinese native modes of thoughts and ideologies that eventually has made her a deity not only for providing spiritual enlightenment, but also for saving people from worldly difficulties. 6 From this perspective, Guanyin's popularity among the Chinese has come from her ability to offer protections, solutions, and wisdoms.

Guanyin's embodiment also suggests the ways in which she is the goddess of love, care, and mercy. 7 There are various folkloric, fairytale-like stories regarding the curious thousand arms of the bodhisattva (who also has thousands of eyes in the palms of her hands), but the one from the Complete Tale of Southern Seas Guan-Yin might be the most well-known. Even though she assumes supernatural power, her human-like body is nevertheless insufficient for helping all she means to rescue. Eventually her head splits into eleven heads so she can see in all directions, and her hands transform into as many as a thousand to "help all and illuminate all with the light of wisdom." 8 Thousand Hands Bodhisattva is ultimately the embodiment of compassion and a "merciful guardian of the human race." 9

Aesthetically appealing, this dance delivers to the audiences a pleasurable sensation of beauty as well as appreciation of Chinese Buddhism. Rather than fleeting or short-lived, the beauty of the dance is long lasting; it debuted a decade ago on Chinese central television with the identical music and costumes, and almost the same choreography (with slight variations in different versions). My first viewing experience was precisely one of intimacy and the appreciation of beauty. As soon as the dance started, the camera focused on the face of the bodhisattva, at which time the bodhisattva displayed a contained smile, as if she shied away a bit but nevertheless managed to establish a mutual gaze between herself and the spectators by a quick glance at the camera. This eye contact was teasing and inviting, after which she seemed to quickly switch to a narcissistic enjoyment of her own body. She was peaceful and quiet and seemed supremely satisfied with the tranquility she created around herself. Then, without wasting a second, she displayed her thousand hands rhythmically, musically, and choreographically. The well-known poet from the Song dynasty, Su Dongpo, once described the thousand hands of a statue of the bodhisattva as "some open-palmed, some closed, some holding up or grasping objects, some snapping fingers or patting, with an eye in each hand not lifted in vain." 10 She gently lifted and lowered every single arm as if she was dancing in water, making waves like gusts of gentle wind. She then withdrew her arms swiftly and re-displayed them in a somewhat intimidating way, as if she was presenting the formidable side of her personality, since she was indeed an embodiment of super power. She created a vacuum of beauty, the kind of beauty that is alluring yet holds a hint of coldness, or, as Theodor Adorno suggests, "a sphere of untouchability." 11 This is beauty that won't be trifled with.

All the dancers stood in a straight line, with the camera directly set in front of the leading dancer. This point of view creates an illusion that a thousand hands are indeed attached to only one body. The spectacle displayed a somewhat deviant look, setting itself apart from the normative human body as well as other incarnations of Buddhist gods in Chinese Buddhism. However, I would argue that it is this particular deviant spectacle of a thousand hands that differentiates the bodhisattva from other gods, separates the dancers from the audience, and crystallizes the moment when the sensation of beauty is elicited. Sianne Ngai, in her book Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, writes about Kant's philosophical account of the aesthetics of beauty: "For Kant, beauty is famously not a stylistic property of objects but rather, […] a compulsory sharing of pleasure that refers the subject to a relation among his subjective capacities, which in turn refers him to a relation between the world in general and his ability to know it." 12 Following Kant, I would suggest that what was beautiful about the dance was not the object of "the thousand hands" per se, but rather a collective, pleasurable visual experience for the spectators triggered specifically by the spectacle that informs their ability to acknowledge the bodily difference between the bodhisattva and themselves. While this acknowledgement elicits the sensation of beauty for the audiences, it simultaneously points to a site where the presupposed relationship between body part's functionality and its aesthetic potentiality can be renegotiated. Precisely, the performance of multiplying arms to one body creates an image, albeit illusional, that challenges the assumption that the artistic presentation is somehow limited by body parts' positioning and attachment to the body.

Although, as Kant suggests, beauty is not a stylistic property of the object, the bodhisattva is nonetheless able to feel the beauty by indulging in her own narcissism. Laura Mulvey elaborates on how narcissism is present in performance and spectatorship. She cites an example from Lacan, where a child enjoys seeing itself in the mirror and imagines the one in the mirror is "more complete, more perfect than […] [its] own body." 13 Wrapped up with this thought is a misperception that the body outside itself is the ideal ego. In this way, one can come to identify oneself with the alienated body he or she sees. 14 Similarly, Mulvey argues that male spectators do not objectify male characters in films as passive erotic figures, but identify themselves with the main male protagonist, "[h]e projects his look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence." 15 In the heterosexual realm, the male gaze not only works to objectify the female figures as passive and erotic, but also to identify with the male characters, who are idealized and used to build up the egos of the male spectators. Laura Mulvey's psychoanalytic analysis of the male gaze in film is limited to male spectators, 16 and inevitably falls into the unconscious patriarchal perspective of understanding "gaze" as heterosexual and male. Laura Marks questions that "[…] 'to-be-looked-at-ness' is the inherent property of female figures in classical narrative cinema. These figures, it is argued, appeal to a dominating, necessarily male, gaze. Given such constraints, what then might constitute male specularity?" 17 She argues that the erotic looks are not confined to either particular subjects or objects, but that looks per se might rather be dominating or submissive, depending on the interrelationship between the viewer and the viewee.

Even though Mulvey's particular formulation of the narcissism of male spectators was not present in my first viewing experience, and that her theory of spectatorship might fall short in helping to understand more-complicated gender divisions vis-à-vis spectatorship, I would like to follow her step and take up Laura Marks's question to suggest that there was a certain power dynamic between the bodhisattva and the spectators that was carried by the (not so much gendered) looks, 18 and that such tension could be understood as a particular form of aesthetic narcissism. As I have mentioned above, there were moments in the dance when the bodhisattva showed narcissistic enjoyment of herself; for instance, the way she displayed her arms and hands to make balanced geometric variations manifested her nature as a narcissistic exhibitionist. Here, the bodhisattva's narcissism seems almost parallel to Henry James's. Eve Sedgwick, remarking on Henry James's revising of his own collected work, writes, "What undertaking could be more narcissistically exciting or more narcissistically dangerous than that of rereading, revising, and consolidating one's own 'collected work'?" 19 The bodhisattva aligns with James in the sense that both enjoyed unbridled narcissism, and at the same time, both offered the spectacle of inviting responses from spectators/readers, as Sedgwick suggests that "narcissism from the very first throws itself sociably, dangerously into the gravitational field of the other." 20 What differentiates these two poles of narcissism is their responses. Unlike James, the bodhisattva's narcissism embodied beauty in a way that transcended such a seemingly self-contained narcissistic appreciation to invite the spectators to pursue such beauty by, as Mulvey suggests, attempting to identify with her body. 21

Such identification is not the path of least resistance. Similar to what Mulvey argues that one can identify with the alienated body he or she sees, Kaja Silverman in analyzing masochistic representations in film, terms this externalizing identification as "ex-centric," which "enables the psyche to take up residence within a different bodily terrain." 22 Therefore, the masochist could experience the pleasure that stems from other suffering bodies. However, unlike either Mulvey's male spectators seeing male protagonists as their better selves or Silverman's masochists whose psyches can locate in other suffering bodies to experience pleasure, the attempt by spectators to identify with the bodhisattva was always already disrupted because there was a substantial bodily difference between the bodhisattva and the spectators—the thousand hands. This bodily difference did not necessarily epitomize "a better self" in any sense, and as I have argued above, the thousand hands composed a spectacle that permitted a degree of intimacy but also solicited reverence from the spectators, as she was ultimately a goddess widely worshiped in Buddhism. In this case, her narcissism was immobile but tantalizing. That allowed spectators to vicariously feel her narcissism through the aesthetics so as to evoke unmitigated intimacy, but it also precluded any possibility of identification, creating around her an aura of "titillatingly untouchable beauty."

Feeling Shame

Back in 2005, following a tradition of spending the New Year's Eve together, our family members gathered to watch the spring festival gala (a tradition for the Chinese since the '80s) on Chinese central television, where Thousand Hands Bodhisattva debuted. Everyone around me was so mesmerized that one could hear a pin drop in the room, but at the end, the peace was disrupted by Grandpa's exclamation, "Not easy! They can't hear but they can dance so well!" I had to ask Grandpa to clarify that he was saying that all the dancers in this performance were hearing-impaired. With that external knowledge of the dancers' disability, the sensation of beauty that emerged from this very first viewing became fraught with mixed feelings that remained unclear to me for quite some time.

Unlike my first experience, during later viewings, I felt distracted, and I could not help but ponder the fact that all the dancers were unable to hear. I started to wonder about the dance techniques—it was a difficult choreography that required acute precision. I eventually figured out what I had taken for granted during my first viewing: standing next to the dancers were two women dressed in white giving hand gestures as if they were orchestra conductors. I did not bother to wonder who they were and why they were there. Now, knowing the dancers could not hear, it became apparent that they were sign language teachers signaling the rhythm, serving as the "ears" for the dancers. At times, I even muted the program to try to sense what it felt like to watch a dance without being able to hear the music. I paid careful attention to the nuances and details of the performance, and the trade-off was that I lost the magic and intimate feelings that I had with the bodhisattva during my first viewing. Knowing the dancers were disabled, instead of feeling just beauty, I also felt shame.

Why shame? We may have to turn to Eve Sedgwick's work on affect and shame theory to tease out the nuances of this peculiar feeling. In her book Touching Feeling, Sedgwick writes about her own feelings of shame when she could not see the World Trade Center. When walking on Fifth Avenue, she would feel

compelled first to look south in the direction of the World Trade Center […] [t]his inexplicably furtive glance was associated with a conscious wish: that my southward vista would again be blocked by the familiar sight of the pre-September 11 twin towers, somehow come back to loom over us in all their complacent ugliness. But, of course, the towers were always still gone. Turning away, shame was what I would feel. 23

The reason she feels shame, citing Silvan Tomkins, is that "one is suddenly looked at by one who is strange, or … one wishes to look at or commune with another person but suddenly cannot because he is strange, or one expected him to be familiar but he suddenly appears unfamiliar, or one started to smile but found one was smiling at a stranger." 24 In other words, shame comes into play when the interpersonal bridge is broken, creating a sense of social isolation. She backs up this argument with another example of the relationship between an infant and a caretaker, wherein if the caretaker refuses to acknowledge or fails to return the gaze of the infant, the baby will experience a feeling of shame: "The shame-humiliation response, when it appears, represents the failure or absence of the smile of contact, a reaction to the loss of feedback from others, indicating social isolation and signaling the need for relief from the condition." 25

According to Sedgwick, shame is an affect not necessarily triggered within a particular subject, but originating in a social environment, which echoes what Teresa Brennan states in her book The Transmission of Affect, that "[the affects] come via an interaction with other people and an environment." 26 Thus, shame originates in an interaction based on physicality in a social scenario—the breaking of eye contact—but transitions into various physiological experiences such as lowering the head or cringing. However, shame does more than merely evoke physiological responses; the aftermath of a feeling of shame is one that is persistent, and it persistently "sharpens the sense of what one is." 27 As Sedgwick continues, shame is constructive; it creates the desire to reconstitute social relationships through increased awareness of one's identity. "Shame, too, makes identity. In fact, shame and identity remain in very dynamic relation to one another, at once deconstituting and foundational, because shame is both peculiarly contagious and peculiarly individuating." 28

Ruth Leys, in her book From Guilt to Shame, has made explicit the ways in which shame is contagious and individuating by stressing the primacy of personal differences. 29 By citing Douglas Crimp, Leys first makes it clear that shame's contagion does not mean that the same trigger source of shame would affect different subjects, but rather, it refers to the vulnerability to being shamed that these subjects share. From this perspective, shame is contentless, which maximizes shame's capacity to be transmitted among subjects: I would easily and equally feel shame when a singer forgets his lyrics, though I have never sung a song on a stage before. Shame is also individuating, because, as Leys points out, during this process of contagious shame, "the other's difference is preserved" by the subject's becoming more aware of the distance between himself and the other. 30 For Leys, this analysis of shame's contagion and individuation allows her to eventually argue that "shame emerges for Sedgwick and her admirers as a means for ensuring each identity's absolute difference from the other," and that shame theory "allows us to understand and reveal our personal singularities by showing us how human beings differentiate." 31 Leys's project at hand aims to critique the ways in which affect and shame theory turns away from personal guilt and frees human beings from moralistic responsibilities by tuning in to a more neoradical discourse of individualism.

Although Ruth Leys's project is productive, I would suggest that her use of Sedgwick's formulation of shame, especially her understanding of how Sedgwick articulates the way in which shame can make identity, seems to be teleological, serving her own grand argument that shame theory subordinates guilt, mitigates collective (especially traumatic) memories, and overemphasizes the importance of personal differences. Although implied, one can still read between the lines that Leys's struggle with personal differences is predicated on her assumption that such emphasis on personal differences will inevitably lead to a radical hyperindividualism that separates the subject and the other, foreclosing any collective effort in dealing with complicated social and moral issues. However, Leys seems to be indifferent to the fact that the entire structuration of shame that Sedgwick is undertaking indeed intends to demarcate and refigure a collective shame-induced identity formation that she codes, for lack of a better term, queer. 32 Personal differences, for Sedgwick, allow multiple layers of understanding; it could be personal differences between different subjects, but it could also be differences within one subject in various temporalities. As she writes about the new prefaces Henry James wrote for his collected work, "The speaking self of the prefaces does not attempt to merge with the potentially shaming or shamed figurations of its younger self, younger fictions, younger heroes; its attempt is to love them. That love is shown to occur both in spite of shame and, more remarkably, through it." 33 From her writings, we see that shame is producing a potential relationality between the different subjects that works, not to forestall communications nor to invite identification with and from one another, but to embrace an acknowledgement of the differences through love.

Sedgwick continues to argue that shame-induced identity is amorphous and insecurely contained. She writes, "The shame-delineated place of identity doesn't determine the consistency or meaning of that identity, [… shame does not] give that identity space the standing of an essence." 34 Sedgwick suggests that rather than pinpointing a specific identity fraught with individualized historical matters, shame provides a template for identity formation that somehow shares a universal feature of queerness. 35 With this foundational affective attachment to shame, queerness takes on this unique perspective of seeing personal differences as an opportunity and a jumping-off point to encouraging conversations across these personal differences. Rather than a concrete identity, queerness not only allows the subjects to maintain and preserve their individualistic difference, but also renders these variegated differences as building blocks to reconfigure the power of social structure, shattering the "normative" identity formation revolving around desired gender, race, class, and sexuality. Lee Edelman suggests that "the efficacy of queerness, its real strategic value, lies in its resistance to a symbolic reality that only ever invests us as subjects insofar as we invest ourselves in it, clinging to its governing fictions, its persistent sublimations, as reality itself." 36 In this sense, collectively, queerness is recalcitrant in nature, but such capacity for resistance is only made possible by recognizing the value of personal differences in the queer community.

When Grandpa made it clear to me that those dancers were hearing-impaired, shame was what I felt. It is not that I was shamed; what happened was that I felt a strong imposing force of shame coming right into my face. It was as if, for an epiphanic moment, I became acutely conscious of things that I was not able to accomplish as an able-bodied person, things I was burying deep in the darkest corner of myself in hopes that these inabilities might be lost to my own memory or consciousness. Since hearing-impairment is not visible, during my first viewing of the dance, I assumed that all the dancers were able-bodied, an assumption that would never be made conscious to me if not for the affect of shame. Just as Sedgwick has argued that one feels shame when "one wishes to look at or commune with another person but suddenly cannot because he is strange," 37 I felt shame because I was confronted by a strange unfamiliarity that challenged my knowledge of common sense. Just as I was about to praise the tremendous human capacity to create beauty, the dancers' disability made me realize that such capacity does not necessarily have to do with being able-bodied, an assumption I made by believing that disabled people are somehow inferior. I felt shame because suddenly I became aware that I was inadvertently part of the socially-constructed hierarchy of able-bodiedness; my own mindset helps support this unjust social construction.

Sensational Disability

I have thus far documented my divergent viewing experiences contingent upon how the performance was contextualized; to be more specific, since the hearing impairment is not visible to the spectators, this particular information has to be told, thus the awareness of disability might not be necessarily prefigured to all spectators, leading to eliciting possibly different sensations and feelings. I am by no means trying to argue that there is a hint of universalism of responses across the spectators; surely, the external knowledge of the dancers' disability might as well bring about the feelings of admiration, exceptionalism, and so on. However, what seems to be particularly interesting to me is that, unlike prevalent theorization of the concept of contextualization as providing crucial cultural and social backdrop against which the performance could be better interpreted and analyzed, for Thousand Hands Bodhisattva, the dancers' disability urges to be told, as if it were part and parcel of the entire performance. Such urgency not only blurs the line between content and context, making the dancers' disability an integral component, but also brings about other thorny questions: how do we understand Thousand Hands Bodhisattva, taking advantages of hearing impairment's invisibility, as rather a conscious performance, foregrounding the dancers' disability without simultaneously visualizing it as a thematic focus? How do we understand the scenario where both the external knowledge about the art and the personal histories of the viewer, whether individually or collapsed, contextualize the art object so as to create new experiences that divert from its original intention? Here I attempt to answer these questions by formulating a notion of queer formalism, existing under the formal parameters, a capacity that cultivates the dynamism of queer becoming between the art and its viewers that would transmit an aesthetics of queerness through mobilizing affects and sensations. In doing so, I hope to show that queer formalism is equipped with potentials to create new forms of sociality for our future.

In a conversation between Jennifer Doyle and David Getsy, Doyle speaks about the gesture of putting books on shelves with their spines facing the wall as queer formalism. According to her, it is a tactic redeployment of books as decorative objects other than "cultural capital," as she writes, "[This gesture] literalized the ambivalent place of narrative within contemporary art: to insist on the book as an object—not an art object, but as a block shaped by one formal logic and deployed in another." 38 Getsy responds that "to prompt us to see a material or an object in a different way—against or to the side of its intended use—is a queer tactic. That 'disavowal of reproductive labor' (…) is a refusal to accept (or to only accept) the prescribed functions of objects or materials." 39 Their formulation of queer formalism functions within a certain formal logic of objects: that the thingness of a book is a commonly accepted cultural production serving as a medium for information and knowledge. However, what renders queer formalism possible is that even if the thingness of an object is bound by its material embodiment, it is not constrained by it. In formulating thing theory, Bill Brown writes that "things compel our attention and elicit our questions only in their animation, their alternation between one thing and another." 40 In arguing that objects interact with human beings through animation, Brown suggests that objects presume a material embodiment that is inanimate, and "'things' will come to designate less the unalterably given material object world than that which becomes visible or palpable only in its alteration." 41 Following this logic, the thingness of an object is capable of taking constellations of forms unconstrained by its material embodiment. Queer formalism, thus, is an aesthetic move that captures the creative valence embedded within an object, projecting it socially into the human world to tear apart the homogenous relation between an object and its intention.

What characterizes such queer formalism, I argue, is a dynamic queer becoming that will shed light on understanding objects as occupying an in-between space that challenges the binaries of life/death, creativity/inertia and act/stasis. 42 On the one hand, becoming is probably the most "lively" notion. It suggests a dynamic mechanism that perpetually winnows, reiterates and evolves, distinguishing itself from the state of stasis, as Deleuze suggests that "becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, 'appearing,' 'being,' equaling,' or 'producing'." 43 It also seems to avow its unique and exclusive attachment to the living: becoming is vastly agential, the power of which lies "at the heart of all life." 44 Becoming is itself the everlasting liveliness of its subject. On the other hand, becoming is probably the most normative notion as well. 45 Claire Colebrook writes "becoming presents itself as self-evident good, not as one norm among others, and not as one good among others, but as the underlying or a priori condition that allows for anything like the good." 46 In this logic, the existence of becoming suggests there is already a prefigured set of norms that serve as guidance of becoming that does not allow deviance. It is a process during which decisions are made about what the subject would "become into" and that values and norms are reiterated and consolidated along the way. From another perspective, as Colebrook continues, becoming is normative because the subject is "impelled to be self-normativizing; […] it must take this becoming upon itself, liberate itself from all the illusions of a given nature or normality, and become nothing other than self-becoming." 47 Thus, normative becoming reaches to "nothing other than itself"; 48 it is a shortening the temporal distance between the subject and its ideal subjectivity, a process that does not challenge the subject's ontological status. To use Eve Sedgwick's words, then, normative becoming is supposedly paranoid, safeguarded from any surprises that would likely interrupt the very process of becoming, which, again, is only to affirm the subject's own subjectivity: normative becoming is, indeed, subjectivization. Thus, what is more terrifying than paranoia is the subject's inability to become, which would eventually reduce the subject into a mere being, deprived of its own potentiality and agency. It is that terror that initiates and drives each normative becoming.

However, it seems as though the liveliness of normative becoming becomes its own constraint that limits its analytical potentials, just as how the notion of life and death, and their oppositional structure can never adequately shed light on the discussions of certain cultural participants and issues (to name a few, fetuses and abortion, people in vegetative state and euthanasia, etc.) that demand more nuanced critical attentions. Mel. Y Chen, by developing what she terms as animacy theory, challenges the limits of dialectics structured around biopolitics and enlivens the matter that is presumably "insensate, immobile, deathly, or otherwise 'wrong'" to offer new perspectives concerning cultural life. 49 Standing antithetically to what linguists term "animacy hierarchy," which "conceptually arranges human life, disabled life, animal life, plant life, and forms of nonliving material in orders of value and priority," 50 animacy theory calls for our attention to ways in which such hierarchy slips and forgoes its own fixation, at the moment of which refiguring human-nonhuman, or subject-object relations becomes possible.

If animacy theory points to the potentials of constellatory relations between humans and others that are unbound by human exceptionalism or by the logics of life/death, living/nonliving, affective/insensate, exceptional/commonplace, I want to urge us to fathom a becoming that is queered to tease out new forms of sociality encompassing all matters in the world. In formulating his concept of becoming, Deleuze suggests that "a becoming […] has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first." 51 Colebrook persuasively argues that Deleuze's concept of becoming carries with itself the sentiment of queerness because his idea of becoming "does not realize and actualize itself, does not flourish into presence, but bears a capacity to annihilate itself, to refuse its ownness in order to attach, transversally, to becomings whose trajectories are external and unmasterable." 52 Deleuze's queer becoming is then not about a singular and linear process guided by a proper end, but rather about forming a particular nexus between the subject and others. Queer becoming's dynamics is thus not shown through reiteration or renarration, but through collapses and collisions; such productive force would wreck the paranoid tension that's been haunting the normative becoming and embrace the surprising outcomes, a queer constellation. If the subject would "refuse its ownness to attach to others," it suggests that queer becoming is capable of desubjectivizing, or mobilizing subjectivity elsewhere out of the subject. Thus, queer becoming is no more perceived as exclusive to the subjective living, making itself a productive analytical tool to reformulate human-nonhuman or object-object relations, issues as such where biopolitics fall short. Queer becoming serves as a creative force to map the genealogies of relations where participants are possibly desubjectivized, decentered, or unowned, affectively attached to each other, to bring about new possibilities for knowledge production, or for ways of living in the hope of potential queer worlding.

Queer formalism points to particular relationality between an art object and its viewers facilitated by the dynamism of queer becoming. Within the formal parameters, the art is to be looked, felt, critiqued and assessed by the viewer, a valuing process that would work only to reinforce both the thingness of the art and the subjectivity of the viewer. Even though there exist interactions between an art object and its viewer where their copresence would trigger considerations of issues at play; for example, Getsy warns us that "bodily relations immediately and inescapably activate questions about gender and sexuality" 53 between a sculpture and the viewer, this hierarchical interaction does not alter ontological status for neither the art or the viewer. What queer formalism offers is a mode of thinking that gives precedence to affects and sensations over thingness and subjectivity; in other words, queer formalism fixates on participants' affective attachment to each other where they are possibly unowned or desubjectivized. Following this logic, Thousand Hands Bodhisattva forfeits its own thingness as an artistic object, refuses to be solely under the scrutinizing gaze from the viewers. As I have argued, it teases the spectators by creating narcissistic intimacy while forbidding them to identify with it. Instead, it has the capacity to mobilize hearing impairment as a sensation. This move detaches disability as an identicatory marker of the dancers while simultaneously shatters the ideology of compulsory able-bodiedness circulating among the viewers, putting both participants within a structure of queer becoming that would allow them to rework their relationship not stemming from the ontological status as an art or a viewer.

In the emerging Disability Studies in the humanities, scholars and activists are rigorously seeking ways to liberate the disabled from oppressive social inequalities. For instance, participants in the social movement of the Deaf regard themselves "not as a handicapped population but as a linguistic minority with distinct cultural and historical traditions." 54 However, I would argue that many of these efforts to liberate the disabled still preserve disability as a particular type of identity as they try to winnow out the coerced hegemonic values. I am not arguing that treating disability as a consolidated identity is necessarily unproductive, since identity politics encourage collective efforts toward community building to elicit and accelerate social movements for eliminating discrimination. Instead, I argue that preserving disability as an identity might foreclose excavating the value of disability to create new dialogues about human potentialities. What interests me most about the current trend of Disability Studies is seeing disability as something other than an identificatory marker. For instance, the disability cultural movement and disability civil rights movement in the United States critique the "hyperindividualistic" American culture, proffering an alternative to reset culture by valuing disabled experience: "[The disabled and Deaf people] declare that they prize not self-sufficiency but self-determination, not independence but interdependence, not functional separateness but personal connection, not physical autonomy but human community." 55 These movements could prove to be productive: as Robert McRuer also suggests, the consolidation of compulsory able-bodiedness is rickety because it rests on the antithetical disabled existence that is poorly contained, so that the movement to treat disability as encompassing human culture might counteract any effort to consolidate the hierarchical compulsory able-bodiedness. 56 Let us all use our imaginative faculty at the moment and try to picture a surging phenomenon of newborn babies with a third arm. Before we render any comment on how this would relate to the freak show, let us wait until the moment when eventually we realize their third arms are equally functional. In most of the possible imaginary scenarios, we might see the great probability that those with three arms are more capable of accomplishing tasks than those with two arms. If this sort of imaginary scenario is not really far-fetched, what accounts for the current normative view of bodies as self-sufficient? Treating disability as rather a common experience also has its ground in the totality of human life span. All people are "disabled" at some point, whether as children, in old age, due to temporary illness or injury, pregnancy and so on; in other words, people are only conditionally able-bodied, and interdependence seems to be an inevitable practice for the human world.

As readers can see in this paper, the reading of Thousand Hands Bodhisattva revolves around particular feelings that it evokes. While beauty and shame are commonly experienced aesthetics and affect, disability does not immediately transform to a type of feeling. Here, however, by repudiating the socially and hierarchically constructed notion of disability, yet not seeing disability as an identity, I would suggest reading disability as a particular type of sensation to allow it to be felt. Writing about masochism, Amber Jamilla Musser suggests that sensation "marks the body's existence as a perceiving subject and the world's existence as an object to be perceived, and it serves as the basis for experience." 57 Sensation is useful because it frees our experience of the world from an identitarian basis, creates the possibility of reconfiguring one's relationship to society, from seeing others to us to seeing others with us, and occupies an in-between space where "bodies are embedded in power." 58 Following Musser, treating disability as a sensation would disrupt and annihilate the boundary between the able-bodied and the disabled to reconfigure the social structure based on human capacity rather than able-bodiedness, as being able-bodied is not necessarily more self-sufficient than being disabled. To say disability is a sensation, then, I suggest a new mode of thinking that tears apart the relationality between body parts and their designated functionality. It pictures a world where subjectivity can take up corporeal forms that do not comport with social connotations, but reflect the particularity of that subjectivity. It also depicts a world that is queered that shifts its emphasis on differences as obstacles to differences as a social catalyst for fluid conversations. For the able-bodied, to feel disability is not to be empathetic so as to unreservedly care about those who are disabled, but to imagine a new way of being and living where interdependence is untethered from the compulsory hyperindividualism. For the disabled, to feel disability is not to constantly hammer at it as a label that differentiates themselves to reinforce a collective sense of community. It is as well to imagine a new way of being and living, where bodily differences among people are not markers of any hierarchy, thus embracing their particular bodies where interdependence is not a sign of "bodily insufficiency." Feeling disability is ultimately a practice to imagine a future that is so diverse, and so queer.

Thus, to read Thousand Hands Bodhisattva as a conscious performance foregrounding the dancers' hearing impairment is to feel disability as a sensation. On the one hand, it disassociates hearing impairment from a certain type of bodily deficiency by challenging the idea that being able to hear the music is essential for executing a dance—obviously memorizing choreography and signals from sign language directors, along with a great deal of practice, can substitute for the ability to hear. It also shows that artistry and a feeling for the music can be taught by sign language; communication of feelings and emotions does not necessarily require linguistic or aural exchange. This dance also brings into question the taken-for-granted assumption about aesthetics and performance that beauty is somehow associated with completeness, wholeness and ability. On the other hand, even though hearing impairment is invisible, it refuses to be ignored of its existence. While allowing disability to be felt, this dance resists the trope of "pass" that is prevalent in the discussion of disabled narratives. In writing about one-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein's performance, Howe suggests that the audiences would often express astonishment when Wittgenstein's disabled performance could sound nondisabled. 59 Such able-bodied sound could allow "listeners to ignore the signifying markers of his disabled body, resulting in a false disconnect between visual and aural experiences." 60 This discrepancy is then explained by "the assignment of a virtual musical prosthesis (an imagined second hand) [that] allows Wittgenstein to 'pass' as normal and two-handed." 61 According to Howe's discussion, the idea of passing rather deems able-bodiedness as a prototype, a standard condition for seeking virtuosity. Thus, the quest for perfection and virtuosity for the disabled performers is almost always mistaken as their pursuit for able-bodiedness. By using sign language teachers other than high-tech prosthesis for hearing, Thousand Hands Bodhisattva not only disregards hearing impairment as an obstacle, something needing to be fixed, but also reframes the issue of disability as common ground for human experience that prioritizes interdependence. This dance also urges us to reconsider the idea that disability impedes the quest for virtuosity, or that disability has made regular talents even more spectacular; rather, Thousand Hands Bodhisattva renders disability a particular sensory territory where human experience could be diversified through contacts, networks, communities and particular forms of socialities that transcend hyperindividualism, making intelligible ordinary affects that are looming largely over sites where people differ from each other.

This brings us back to the original story of the Thousand Hands Bodhisattva. As suggested earlier, Buddhism endorses harmonious social relations in which one respects and helps others in need. Such endorsement fundamentally assumes that there are personal differences among the masses, so that attention should be given to avoid using these differences to create social problems. The thousand hands bodhisattva is a Buddhist symbol of love, who would go so far as to take up the extraordinary corporeal form of eleven heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand hands, just to be "able" to help all who need her rescue. As Miriam Levering suggests, "Guanyin's essence, her reality, is precisely her functioning, her regarding with many eyes or one eye the suffering of beings and her responding with one hand or many hands." 62 The performance of Thousand Hands Bodhisattva strategically takes up the ideology of Buddhism by presenting within the logics of queer formalism, sticks with formal dimensions of the art of dance, and adds a unique element of disability as a necessary component of the program. Such queer formalism opens up new territory of imagination where affects and sensations play key role in reformulating social relations that are currently vexed by identities, subjectivities, and differences. It is ultimately a gesture that points to a certain futurity: rather than seeing Guanyin as an embodiment of super power, we should see her as a symbol for interdependence, one that is queered because she signifies a still somewhat idealized wish, that when no single abled body with super power is sufficient to salve all the suffering and bring about a better world, we can only count on everybody, whether abled or extraordinary, to efface the boundary and work cooperatively for that futurity.

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Notes

  1. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a forum to encourage trade and economic cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In 2014, this meeting was held in Beijing, China, from November 10 to 12.
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  2. Wright, Arthur F. Buddhism in Chinese history, Vol. 77. (Stanford University Press, 1959), 10.
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  3. Phelps, Norm. The great compassion: Buddhism and animal rights (Lantern Books, 2004), 43.
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  4. Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 82.
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  5. Yü, Chün-fang. Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 5.
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  6. Ibid.
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  7. Zheng Lixin, Guide to Chinese Buddhism (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2004), 16.
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  8. Tay, C. N. Kuan-Yin: "The Cult of Half Asia," History of Religions, 16.2 (1976):171.
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  9. Ibid., 147.
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  10. Ibid., 172.
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  11. Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2012), 54.
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  12. Ibid., 38.
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  13. Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Screen, 16.3, (Autumn 1975): 9.
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  14. Ibid.
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  15. Ibid., 12.
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  16. Although in "Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' Inspired by 'Duel in the Sun,'" she suggests that female spectators often adopt an active, masculinized viewing position, this is still a kind of "transvestite" posture, and it merely postpones, without preventing, the inevitable misfortunes of patriarchal sexual economies. See Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 68.
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  17. Marks, Laura U. "Straight Women, Gay Porn, and the Scene of Erotic Looking." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 40, (March 1996): 127.
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  18. Or to use Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's term, stares. Unlike Mulvey, Garland-Thomson suggests that stares emphasize the active involvement of both the viewer and viewed, and that staring is "an intense visual exchange." See Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 9.
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  19. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 39.
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  20. Ibid., 38.
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  21. For James, as Sedgwick writes, his narcissistic prefaces were poorly received, that they "offer the spectacle of inviting (that is, leaving themselves open to) what was in fact their and their author's immediate fate: annihilation by the blankest of nonrecognizing responses from any reader." See Sedgwick, 39.
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  22. Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins, (New York: Routledge, 1992), 259.
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  23. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 35.
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  24. Ibid., 35.
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  25. Ibid., 36.
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  26. Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004), 3.
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  27. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 37.
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  28. Ibid., 37.
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  29. Leys, Ruth. From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After, (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007), 150.
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  30. Ibid., 152.
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  31. Ibid., 153.
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  32. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 63.
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  33. Ibid., 41.
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  34. Ibid., 63-64.
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  35. Ibid., 63.
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  36. Edelman, Lee. "The future is kid stuff: Queer theory, disidentification, and the death drive." Narrative (1998): 24.
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  37. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 35.
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  38. Doyle, Jennifer, and David J. Getsy. "Queer Formalisms: Jennifer Doyle and David Getsy in Conversation." Art Journal 72, no. 4 (2013): 60.
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  39. Ibid., 63.
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  40. Brown, Bill. "How to do things with things (a toy story)." Critical Inquiry (1998): 937.
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  41. Ibid., 936.
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  42. Colebrook, Claire. "Queer aesthetics." Queer Times, Queer Becomings (2011): 26.
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  43. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1988), 239.
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  44. Colebrook, Queer aesthetics, 26
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  45. Ibid., 23.
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  46. Ibid., 30.
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  47. Ibid., 31.
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  48. Deleuze and Guattari, A thousand plateaus, 238.
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  49. Chen, Mel. Animacies: Biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect, (Duke University Press, 2012), 2.
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  50. Ibid., 13.
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  51. Deleuze and Guattari, A thousand plateaus, 238.
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  52. Colebrook, Queer aesthetics, 31.
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  53. Doyle and Getsy, Queer Formalism, 59.
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  54. Snyder, Sharon L., Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, eds. Disability studies: Enabling the humanities, (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2004), 77.
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  55. Sandahl, Carrie and Philip Auslander. Bodies in commotion: Disability and performance, (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), 13.
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  56. McRuer, Robert. Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability, (New York and London: New York University Press, 2006), 31.
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  57. Musser, Amber Jamilla. Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism, (New York and London: New York University Press, 2014), 1.
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  58. Ibid., 3.
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  59. Howe, Blake. "Paul Wittgenstein and the performance of disability." The Journal of Musicology 27, no. 2 (2010): 141.
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  60. Ibid.
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  61. Ibid.
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  62. Levering, Miriam. "Guanyin/Avalokitesvara in Encounter Dialogues: Creating a Place for Guanyin in Chinese Chan Buddhism." Journal of Chinese Religions, 34, (2006): 19.
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