Henri Maspero, Wilhelm Reich & Katherine Dunham

Henri MasperoWow, it was fun putting those three names together.

Actually they don't fit so well together, but what they have in common is that they all crossed metaphorical bridges that make this blog possible.

Henri Maspero was the first sinologist to recognized the scope of Daoism as a religion. Of course there were a bunch of sinologists that preceded him, but I think he was the first to think about Daoism outside of a Christian framework. He was murdered by the Nazi's at Buchenwald in 1945. Scholars of comparable depth didn't surface again until the 1970's, mostly in France (probably do to his influence there), and not until the 1990's in English.

Wilhelm ReichWilhelm Reich was a student of Sigmund Freud. He is such a weird character in history that most people are reluctant to credit him as a significant force in the development of ideas. But he is also hard to dismiss. He was the first scholar to try to prove that sex is good for you. Perhaps I should be crediting Oscar Wilde instead, or someone else who said such things but used humor as a cover. But Reich was the first person to use the expression body armor (and character armor) as a metaphor for explaining physical tension. He was the first person in Western Civilization to say that emotion can be stored in the body as tension.

CloudbusterReich is also extraordinary because he was probably the first to say that Nazi's and Communists are the same. His reason was also way ahead of his time: They both used the same repressive physicality to perpetuate fear of self-awareness; a fear which makes people want to be told what to do.

Most people agree that when Reich came to America he went off the deep end. His coolest invention in that regard was the Cloudbuster. But when you read his writings on Orgone Energy you are going to think, "Oh, he means Qi." I believe it is highly likely that Reich was reading some kind of Chinese cosmology. So in that regard he represents the very worst part of Modernity; the habit of an taking an idea from another culture and pretending like you invented it!

Katherine DunhamKatherine Dunham was the great antidote to that lame habit of Modernity. She invented Dance Anthropology (or Ethnology if you prefer). She made the serious study of movement and physicality both central and indispensable to the process of understanding culture. Because of Katherine Dunham we can laugh at all the scholarship by stiffs who think that they understand something because they saw it or even read about it, and at the same time we can treasure the voices of those who actually join the dance.

I don't know much about the earliest film documents of martial arts, but 1936 was pretty early. Dunham caught some great stuff!