Wednesday, April 11, 2007

pain in repetition

Hope Sam doesn't mind, he posed this question to me via email, and I thought it wanted a post:

What did you think of Foley's responses about the reliving of pain and the memory of pain? I think looking at it from a wrestler's perspective is even more fascinating because they can see that event happen again and again...of course, they are also choosing it for themselves in a way that the traumatic events you are looking at were not self-inflicted, but it is an interesting parallel...

It was really interesting that Foley first associated the idea of body memory and trauma with an early experience playing baseball. It was a great anecdote about an associative physical reaction to an inscribed experience. But this was what popped into the conversation about body memory, after all the tremendous impacts and injuries he endured in wrestling?! Pretty amazing. This speaks to his point that it is fundamentally different to perform violence and pain than to actually experience it authentically (forgive my overtired paraphrasing). The way Foley spoke about the trauma of pain in his wrestling career made me think that this was injury with some agency. The wrestlers acknowledge it as part of the job to endure traumatic impacts and beatings over and over again. It's fairly clear that the physical performance of wrestling is anything but fake, the impacts and injury are as real as it gets. But the serialized (scripted/ choreographed) repetition of this pain seems to strip to trauma from it. Foley spoke of bloodlettings and busted knees without any apparent emotional attachments to those traumas.

The idea of the 'self-inflicted' trauma is at the heart of this (back to the 'injury with some agency' idea). And Foley did indeed sign up for the beatings he took. This begs the consideration of psychosomatic (here meaning in terms of body-mind interrelation rather than the context of disorder) implications... what does the same blow to the head mean when one is inviting it, expecting it, performing it, vs. when one is not in that position of agency, and is victim to an act of violence. I would posit that the physical harm to the body can be compartmentalized, removed from the realm of trauma, when it is consciously performed within some parameters/ rules/ script.

The fact that wrestlers can view these acts after they happen just adds to their ownership of these body traumas. I can't imagine that Foley has to watch his stunning fall from the cell over and over in the intro of RAW each week. But I think this only demarcates the act again as spectacle rather than trauma. I get the impression that on some level, when Foley sees the fall repeated, he's watching his character take the hit. Of course, it's his body, and he speaks with clarity about the actual first-hand experience. He just addressed it with more objectivity than I thought would be possible when it comes to such a huge physical impact. But he said that if you're going to do something so completely outrageous to your body, it should be well documented. It should serve some purpose- in the case of wrestling, entertainment, to validate that pain.

I'm reading two texts for my research topic, 'Blood, Guts, & Violence in Sports' and 'From Ritual to Record: the Nature of Modern Sports', in which there is useful context. In the 'Ritual to Record' text, Guttman defines play as 'autotelic. Pleasure is in the doing and not in what has been done' (3). Sport is defined as "'playful' physical contests, that is, as non-utilitarian contests which include an important measure of physical as well as mental skill" (7). But wrestling, for the wrestlers, is work, it is utilitarian. It doesn't involve the indeterminacy of play and contest. The action is, to an extent, determinate, and therefore so are the injuries. I think this determinacy is exactly what allows the body to tolerate such actions, and to not be traumatized by them after the fact.

In 'Blood, Guts & Violence,' Atyeo says 'Just how much of the 'game' remains in professional wrestling is a question as indeterminable as it is irritating for the wrestlers to whom it is monotonously directed. For their part, wrestlers are unanimous in their claim that, alothough the action may fall short of the grimaces an groans which resound from the ring, the sport is still a hard, painful and serious contest.. in their defense they cite long lists of injuries" (163). This defensiveness may be a little outdated, since there seems to be a consensus about the real physical dangers of wrestling these days. (Foley didn't seem to have any need for proving to us that he endured 'real' physical experiences- this is a given.) But the ambiguity between contest, play, and performance is still obviously prevalent in wrestling, and I think the puts the repetition and reception of pain on equally ambiguous footing.

I wonder about this in terms of how the body impact feels different, or is remembered differently, in a tightly choreographed match vs. a less scripted one. Foley talked about how the level of scripting can vary greatly depending on the wrestlers- that the luche libre matches have extremely careful choreography that is well-rehearsed, while a wrestler lke Steve Austin likes to know as little as possible before the match and let action play out more improvisationally. Is there some higher level of authentic pain when things get looser in the script? Or does the engagement with character allow this pain to be serialized, and therefore objectified on some level, regardless of the level of improvisation of violence?

One last bit, since I don't think it came across very clearly and it's so related to my interest in this class: the project i'm doing in my studio involves serializing and instrumentalizing (through re-envisioning the gym equipment and space) physical traumas embedded in body memory as a method of transcending those traumas and their physical impact. The 'psychosomatic' gym allows repetition of body impacts or experiences, giving the opportunity to gain agency over those physical acts through repetition and relational strength buidling. (In efffect, buiilding the physical and mental fibers of self simultaneously in reaction to specific individual physical memory.) But that's still getting worked out. I really appreciate Foley's comments about it though, he was really insightful and has gotten my head going in a million directions with this studio work and my final project for the class.


Laury Silvers said...

This is very interesting to me, where does Foley talk about body memory?

Sam Ford said...

Laury, Mick talked about it during our class discussion on Wednesday, when Kate was telling him about her project. I think you are quite right that the emphasis Mick gives to the scriptedness of wrestling is key here. He points out that the distinction between wrestling and boxing/ultimate fighting is that you are always in control of your dangerous moves in wrestling and have a partner working with you, rather than an opponent against you.

You make a great point about how this autonomy could cause this same physically painful event to be much less emotionally scarring. Mick points out several times how you can't fake getting hit with a steel chair, yet I think it matters quite a bit to know that the shot is coming and to want it to hit you as part of the performance. I'm glad that his comments integrated so well with your research in this class and in your other project as well.

Luis Tenorio said...

I suppose that knowing that the pain is coming can be important. The shock of being in pain and the pain itself can go a long ways toward burning that memory into you and have that memory float back to the surface whenever that similar kind of pain comes into play. I have something that might fall into this category. Getting hit in the nose. It doesn't happen often but it does happen. On the basket ball court mostly or just someone accidentally hitting me. But I always go back to a memory of me when I was 8 and I fell flat on my nose while I was trying to balance myself with my arms between two bars. Even now just doing something like that brings back that sort of feeling in my nose. But wrestlers have to go through lots of pain that is controlled so it might just be hard to distinguish memories. But this begs the question, what about pain that is not controlled? Such as the hell in a cell match with the Undertaker, or the I quit match with the Rock? The fall through the cage was not planned but it could not have been worse that falling into a table just 15 minutes prior, or the numerous extra chair shots he took from the Rock. These must be similar bumps to those taken before but unexpected. So does body memory come into play here? Only in something like wrestling would one be able to find an answer.

Sam Ford said...

Luis, you post two interesting questions. The first is whether knowing it's coming changes the trauma or memory any. The other is where the memory is contained. You said something about these situations bringing those feelings back in your nose, and I thought that was an interesting phrase. I know that, literally, the memory must be housed in one's mind, but I wonder how tied this memory of body trauma is tied to the actual location of an injury.