To dance or not to dance? Modes of No Saying.

In his discussion of asceticism, Nietzsche distinguishes between two ways of saying no. On the one hand, there's the priest who says no to life, no to the body, no to health. And then there is the no saying of the strong man, such as the athlete, who says no as a way to affirm his vitality, his health, his strength.

The no of the strong man is in fact a yes — it affirms who he is, how he goes. The no of the weak, of the priest, is a turning away from life.

Conceptually, this is all quite clear. But in life the distinction is not always easy to maintain.

A few weeks ago, I was out with a young woman enjoying some cocktails when she suggested that we go dancing. It seems an innocent enough request (forget, for the moment, that she knows me rather well and was quite aware that such a request of me is not innocent). Everything in me — well, perhaps not everything — began to reel.

I am not one who dances, I said myself. I've never danced in any public venue. It's not how I roll, as the kids might say; or it's not in my constitution, as Nietzsche might.

But do I not dance out of fear? Out of some ingrained hatred of the body, of my body? Is my not dancing perhaps a nihilism rather than an affirmation?

Do I go dancing with this young woman? Or not?

I did, honestly, consider going. But inertia was too much to overcome and I dillied and I dallied and I debated and I stressed until, finally, I declined: "No," I said.

In so doing, did I deny life? Or affirm myself?


Daniel Schealler said...

It seems to me that either response would have been an affirmation of a sort so long as it had been performed selfishly.

Maybe dithering over the decision was the act of denial?

VPontis said...

The fact that you usually do not dance seems a rationalization for not dancing with this women. The fact that you doubt your action confirms this.

The affirmative naysayer is empowered by his decision and does not waver on his motives while the other attempts to justify his fears.

Though, I would think that real answer would involve the rational for your not usually dancing.

The Postmaster General said...

you're the priest coffeen. get out there and dance. feeling like dancing depends on a lot of things but to deny it outright is ascetic. if the music is bad, or rather not to my taste, then i find it incredibly hard to dance. if it's slower and matches the rhythm of my body then it's actually fun.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I dig the replies. But let me ask this: At what point do we question the things we take most for granted? I mean, to push the absurd: Must I leap out of an airplane with a ball gag and a butt plug while shooting heroin? Does saying no make me a nihilist?

At what point does one say: This is who I am, how I go? And what point does one say: This is how I used to go, perhaps I can go differently now?

By questioning whether to go dancing or not, it seems to me I was beginning to become a different me, one who might go dancing. So rather than denial, my deliberation was a moment within a becoming other to myself.

Or not.

seeQuilty said...

Dithering whether to dance is like deliberating whether to be aroused. Dance when you can no longer refrain. When the tenor and momentum leaves you no choice. The dance doesn't want you otherwise.

And as for who you are and how you go and what you take for granted...

Don't say no until you've seen the piazza.

Daniel Schealler said...


Is that the right question?

I'm reminded of Sue Blackmoore sitting in a cafe, examining the menu, with no idea what she is going to choose to eat. The thought in her mind being "I wonder what she (Sue, herself) is going to choose to eat?" followed with genuine surprise and pleasure with the eventual decision that performs itself.


So, down which path does the affirmation of life lie?

Submission to one's nature? Or mastery of it?

And suddenly I'm ignorant about Nietzsche all over again. Fuck.

Chad Lott said...

This all reminds me of N.W.A.'s Gangsta, Gangsta:

"Everywhere we go, they say damn
N.W.A.'s fuckin' up the program
and then you realize we don't care
We don't just say no, we're too busy sayin' yeah"

If someone was laying that track down you probably would've danced.

seeQuilty said...

Does the fancy to dancey need rehearsal? Does acting on impulse take practice indeed?

Yes, perhaps, I think so.

But what conditions to break him out the first time...

Daniel, how seducible are you?

Daniel Coffeen said...

I love the dance fever here. And the implication: "Get jiggy, Coffeen, or shut the fuck up." Which is really my sentiment exactly.

Linz said...

I like the ambivalence here. Assuredness is so seductive, but also deceptive. My intellectual crushes are crushes precisely because they stake out their territory so boldly. It's disconcerting to see the real-life moments of ambivalence behind the bold statements of philosophy.

It makes me think about how a philosophy, a style, a way of going, whatever, reconstitutes itself in moments of indecision. Is the anxiety of enacting a philosophy external to the philosophy, or an essential part of it?

Oh, and I don't dance either.

Matt said...

Dance is a great trope because it's such a good way of going; emotive, embodied, and emergent.

Every dancer dose it different, its a true line of flight, albeit usually quit suicidal, a kind of death.
Is this death an ascetic or athletic death you ask.
A yes or a no? Its a no because its a true distruction of a world with no hope of recovaery, no garenty to life.
The dancer, the amicher, hates the bodie and its stifness, its reched little nervis tics. So with no hope of ebtianing the angelic form
the dancer denis everything
kills it on the dance flore, an ebserd little fool.

lets face it for most of us dancing is
Iggy Pop with his peanut butter jar not james brown feelin' good.
So dancing is ascetic and nihilistic, meaningless, absurd, self deprication.

Now do I think that the denial of dancing under these conditions is an affirmation of your self?
Not exactly.
When seeQuilty said "dance when you can no longer refrain" that seems right
when Quilty said "the dance doesn't want you", that didn't seem right.
It seems to me that the dance indeed wants you. Thats what this is about, right. But nether denying the dance nor affirming it
is working out for you. What is working, much to kiekegaard's dismay, is deferring the decision,
flirting with the dance, dancing with the issue at hand. Its a new performance.
A becoming dance

keep up the good work.

Daniel Coffeen said...

It's funny: I didn't imagine this post to be about dance at all. Derrida, alas, was right. And I love it.

@Linz: This line is so fucking smart it makes me, uh, excited: "It makes me think about how a philosophy, a style, a way of going, whatever, reconstitutes itself in moments of indecision. Is the anxiety of enacting a philosophy external to the philosophy, or an essential part of it?"

That, in many ways, is what all my writing, all my blogging, all my teaching is about. And I get this from Kiergegaard, and then Nietzsche, and then Socrates: philosophy is a life. Not quite sure what that means but I'm working on it.

Jared Alford said...

"Is the anxiety of enacting a philosophy external to the philosophy, or an essential part of it?"

"Now concepts don't move only among other concepts (in philosophical understanding), they also move among things and within us: they bring us new percepts and new affects that amount to philosophy's own nonphilosophical understanding just as much as it requires philosophical understanding. That's why philosophy has an essential relation to nonphilosophers, and addresses them too. They may even sometimes have a direct understanding of philosophy that doesn't depend on philosophical understanding."

-Deleuze, "Letter to Reda Bensmaia, on Spinoza"


So you should quit thinking about it and fucking dance. It provides, in my experience, the most choice of affects. For they do not kid over at [insert blog about 'why fuck when you can dance' in place of total fail].

Jared Alford said...


and some other good ones:




Of course this is more for the ones who might actually dance.

Daniel Coffeen said...

While I appreciate the encouragement to dance — and let it be known that I do, in fact, dance but in the privacy of my own home, alone, and to music I actually like — if that young woman did not succeed in getting my skinny hebe ass on the dance floor, what makes you think you will?

V said...

I think this is about the fluid borders of the self.

Butt-plugged, ball-gagged, smack-shooting skydiving is such an outlying activity that no, you needn't seriously consider it -- indeed, you wouldn't have invoked it as as a hypothetical if you didn't presume a shared intuition as to where on the general constitution-meter it would fall. Until your constitution alters to such a point where it seems an entertainable option (I suspect skydiving for you to be the least assimilable of prospects), your saying no to that would be simple expression of your being-in-the-world. I suppose in the proposed typology that's a strong no, albeit such an easy one to arrive at that it seems a hollow exercise of strength.

Dancing, though, for you, seems to lie at the gray (frayed?) borders of your self. Self-questioning follows the question and you chronicle a tension between temptation and inertia. In that case, how to characterize the no will be inevitably muddled because it is located at a muddled juncture of Dan and the world.

Speaking to the particular example, I was an avowed non-dancer all the years I lived in New York, routinely observing that the amount of alcohol required to get me on the dance floor was separated by mere sips from the amount of alcohol required to land me on a hospital gurney. I was so enamored of this particular formulation that I perversely looked forward to dance-appropriate situations so I could affirm both my private sense of self and perform socially as the resident witty misanthrope with that little quip.

Then I moved to Thailand and suddenly found myself dancing up a storm at any opportunity -- Irish music in a pub, Thai folk music on the street, bossa nova covers of pop standards in shopping malls. Abandoned, non-rhythmic, Grateful-Dead-concert-massaging-an-imaginary-beach-ball dancing. And loving it. I can dress it up as a newfound preference for the Dionysian over the Apollonian, but the truth is it just felt so fucking good. Good in and of itself and good as an act of self-liberation. And I realized that, for me, my non-dancing had been an ascetic no, a weak no, a no purchased at the cost of denying myself something that I truly enjoyed to maintain a private and public image to which I was committed. The dancing came first -- I didn't decide yes and then dance. Rather, I found myself dancing, which lead me back to question why I had committed myself to that image, that posture, in the first place. And I couldn't come up with a particularly compelling reason.

Did I feel pangs about being somehow disloyal to former self? Of course. Did I ever feel foolish and wish to retreat to my shell of affected disdain? Naturally. But the strength of my yes (or, if you prefer, my strong no to my former weak no), managed to prevail, and I am the happier for it (although thousands of Marlboros are increasingly asserting their own brand of no when it comes to dancing). So do some smack, take the plug out of your ass, and see you how you feel (ball gag optional). Maybe you will enjoy it, or perhaps you will in fact find a compelling reason for your commitment to your image and posture; if the latter, you can always go back to curmudgeonhood after a good shower and a shot of some high-end tequila. And that way, your next "I don't dance" will be a clear, shining act of Dan-in-the-world.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I put that reference to ball gagged skydiving with you in mind: I knew you'd say just what you said.

I like that dance came to you rather than you to dance. But you found in Thailand where your being in the world was necessarily "grayed." So perhaps I can dance in South East Asia or Arizona or France but maybe, or maybe not, in SF.