[Movement] is a fluid term which involves an interplay between both involuntary/inarticulate and voluntary/articulate movement.
The first step of any critical interrogation is definition. This is necessary so that readers can understand what is meant by the term ‘movement’ when it is used throughout any previous and consequent criticisms and theorisations whilst outlining the field for a ‘philosophy of movement’. Firstly, it is important to state that at criticism here are movement patterns of the human body within space. Under this broad articulation of movement I can initially propose (albeit crudely reductive) two facets of human movement: voluntary and involuntary. I am also tempted to call these articulate and inarticulate movement (respectively), however I am sure both will find themselves lacking as we move forward. I will, however, explain my decision for using these words throughout this short essay.
Now I’m aware that these distinctions beg so much more definition to withstand any interrogation but my only intention for now is to trace an idea, to sketch a few lines on which a game might be played.
Involuntary (or inarticulate) movement cannot be ‘articulate’ unless it is weighted with conscious deliberation under such efforts as ‘expression’ or ‘training’ by the mover.
The autonomic, default movement patterns we use for our everyday movement ‘tasks’. Namely how we walk, stand, sit, lie, and everything in between for whatever, ‘everyday’ purpose – for modern societies, this form of movement constitutes the majority (and in some extreme cases the entirety) of an individual’s movement. This facet of movement is not deliberate in that the person does not instigate some conscious, pre-mediated action plan of how to carry them out.
If you have to run, jump, crawl, swim, climb, or fall without having time to think about it (imagine a life or death situation that might require any of the aforementioned movement patterns) then it will be with ‘involuntary/inarticulate’ movement that you execute them. Let’s say you tried to jump a river, but jumped short because you’re ‘involuntary’ jump reflex is worse than you thought it was. Now you are drowning and are trying to climb out of the river onto a riverbank and crawl to safety – it will be with involuntary movement that you do this. It’s autonomic, it’s a reaction, it is not premediated or pre-planned.
If your involuntary movement pattern for scrambling out of a river onto a river-bank is worse than the situation demands, you will drown. Perhaps we can say that with involuntary movement patterns, it’s not necessarily you that demands the movement. It is the situation which demands it.
In most cases, particular movement patterns are trained in order to articulate them in the desirer manner, hence, the evocation of ‘articulate movement’
At this point, I am inclined to say that any movement pattern carried out with deliberation, i.e. not the situation which has demanded it but the desire of the mover (the owner of the body), can be called voluntary/articulate. Voluntary movement is seen most obviously in the deliberate physical training of the human body.
Now here it is important to clarify that deliberate physical training is not synonymous with exercise. The term ‘exercise’ has become so tied up with ideologies of ‘health and fitness’ that it is now a bias term in an impartial dress, a problematic term which must be dealt with separately. ‘Exercise’, as with ‘health and fitness culture’, are indeed constituents of physical training, however the extreme impact of their ideological weight on cultures and individuals most certainly affords them a metaphysical category of their own.
Another element of voluntary movement is physical expression. Here we can take the familiar examples of dance, performance arts and some martial arts. In most cases, particular movement patterns are trained in order to articulate them in the desired manner, hence, the evocation of ‘articulate movement’. Involuntary (or inarticulate) movement cannot be ‘articulate’ unless it is weighted with conscious deliberation under such efforts as ‘expression’ or ‘training’ by the mover.
The Blurry Line
The key here is intention of movement.
The line I have traced between ‘voluntary/articulate’ and ‘involuntary/inarticulate’ movement is far from distinct, and that’s how it should be. Really there is no line, because a group of movement patterns, as well as elements of a single movement pattern, can involve both voluntarily and involuntary movement, depending on how deliberate or how well-versed the movement pattern or group of movement patterns is or are. The average individual training in a gym creates voluntary movement for perhaps only 30 seconds at a time with only a single movement pattern in the form of a set of squats or bench press (and even within this time there are micro-movements they are not in deliberate control of) and then they spend another 60 seconds (in the best case scenario) walking, lying, sitting; all involuntary movement. A dancer might execute hundreds of different movement patterns in the space of a four minute routine, all deliberate, articulate movement. A skilled marathon runner or long-distance cyclist will maintain an articulate, heavily specialised movement pattern for hours, but this single movement pattern alone.
It is also important to consider that voluntary movement can translate to, and ultimately become,involuntary movement. If I train myself to be a better swimmer, a better climber, a better crawler, a better jumper, a better faller, the chances are that I’m less likely to short-jump the river, less likely to fall into the water, and if I do I’m more likely to be able to swim free of the current, climb up the river bank and crawl into safety – all utilising well-trianed, ye still involuntary, movement patterns.
So what determines if a movement pattern is voluntary or involuntary? What’s the difference between walking 100 meters to the shop and 100 meters on a treadmill? The key here is intention of movement.
You cannot move voluntarily unless the movement is carried out under the guise of a pre-determined and socially accepted structure of movement.
At this current juncture, I feel comfortable in stating that intention (or more precisely, intention toward the movement pattern) is the key distinguisher in defining human movement into one of the two categories I have theorised. Understanding intention as a key aspect of defining human movement patterns is to begin understanding where we have placed human movement in modern societies, the implications its current position, what needs to change and why. It lies in the very difference between walking ten minutes to the shop, and driving to a gym to walk ten minutes on a treadmill.
‘Play time’ soon becomes ‘exercise time’. A child must ultimately join a movement dogma if they wish to express ‘voluntary’ movement. Meanwhile, the ability of their involuntary movement will regress and restrict.
When a movement pattern becomes deliberate and voluntary, society demands that it be categorised and given structure. You cannot move voluntarily unless the movement is carried out under the guise of a pre-determined and socially accepted structure of movement. Some really broad examples of culturally structured movement are ‘sport’, ‘exercise’, and children’s ‘play’ time, although this state of ‘play’ is merely a temporary and forgiving safety structure within which children can exercise almost any movement pattern of their desire in any way without fear of backlash. Once they ‘grow out’ of the play-park, however, their movement patterns must be structured to fit into another socially accepted structure, an new discipline; a movement dogma. If an individual attempts to move voluntarily, but without definition, they will experience cultural backlash against their movement, often instigated by self-policing individuals who wish only to preserve the ideological norm of socially accepted movement patterns.
As an example, if I practice 5 rhythms dancing in a dance studio under the correct structures, that is no problem. If I emulate the patterns of 5 rhythms dancing at a populated bus stop, people will think I am insane. On a more basic level, if I squat in the gym for the goal of fitness, it’s not a problem. If I sit in a rested squat position at the bus stop in a western culture for ten minutes, people will feel awkward around me. This concept of ideological policing is key to understanding what is at stake in Movement Philosophy, and it will be continually revisited.
[We must develop] an understanding of exactly what that ideology is, how it functions to control movement, and what the consequences of this are to the human animal on our physical and psychological planes.
The goal of this brief essay has been to arm the reader with an understanding of what is meant by by ‘movement’ as it is used throughout this effort toward a ‘philosophy of movement’. I have given no strict definition, as that definition is in itself in need of deeper theorisation and distinction. I am happy to accept any criticism and input from readers.
I do believe, however, that I have outlined the general feel for what is being considered when the term ‘movement’ is used here-within. It is a fluid term which involves an interplay between both involuntary/inarticulate and voluntary/articulate movement. The former can be understood as ‘indeliberate’ or ‘default’ movement patterns used in an unstructured context, such as walking to the shop, getting out of bed, picking something up off of the floor, sitting on the toilet, at your desk, on the sofa, in your car… these are all involuntary because the individual generally makes no voluntary effort to alter their efficiency, effectiveness, or aestheticism. The latter consists of movement patterns executed deliberately, such as in exercise, sport, dance and performance arts. They are articulate because they are clear and defined movement patterns carried out with purpose. They are usually performed purely with efficiency, effectiveness, and/or aestheticism in as a desired outcome.
The separation between the two is entirely permeable. One can involve the other to larger and smaller extents, and ‘voluntary’ movement patterns can be practiced so much as to become ‘involuntary’ ones. Mere intention of the same movement pattern becomes a key distinguisher of the two categories as we consider that deliberate movement is also structured movement, structured movement becomes the realm of movement dogma, and movement dogma becomes movement ideology in its wider application.
The distinction I believe deserves the most critical inquiry, however, is ‘voluntary/articulate’ movement, as it is these movement patterns that are so heavily subject to structure and categorisation, reducing and equating them to a movement ‘norm’. And as with any ‘norm’, what we are really dealing with is a normalised ideology which exists only through it’s maintenance within culture. This should be one of the key objects of interrogation in any effort toward a ‘philosophy of movement’ – an understanding of exactly what that ideology is, how it functions to control movement, and what the consequences of this are to the human animal on our physical and psychological planes.