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Poster frame image for video. Image shows someone standing in a downtown cityscape.

The Dancing Floor

Sarah J. Arroyo and Bahareh Alaei


The Dancing Floor features the ancient concept of chora and connects it to practices located in digital cultures inspired by online video sharing. We riff on chora's pre-Platonic connection to both a dance and a dancing floor (Rickert, 2007).

From Stasis to Chora

The first section introduces choric invention by turning to Roland Barthes's (1981) famous explication of the "punctum of recognition" one feels when looking at certain photographs. We transfer the concept to moving images to show how the experience becomes intensified when video can trigger simultaneous, multiple puncta, which in turn set off multiple inventions. Choric invention does not offer a set of pre-established procedures; it creates a network in which to feel an invention that is both sparked by a punctum and remembered by the body (Ulmer, 1981).

Thomas Rickert (2007) revisited the work of Plato, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, and Gregory Ulmer to present chora as a complex ecology for rhetorical invention. Rickert traced chora through Derrida's idea that choric "invention may inhabit a paradoxical or impossible place within rhetoric, precisely because of its always-ongoing withdrawal" (p. 265). The second section of this installation attempts to visually capture these moments of ongoing withdrawal.

YouTube as Chora

We then turn to specific practices found on the video sharing site YouTube to show how YouTube's archive evokes a choral space, folding time and space in and out of the platform. "Lisztomania," a pop song that has inspired groups around the world to engage in acts of choric invention, is also a term describing "Liszt fever," an affliction dating back to the 1840s that triggered intense levels of hysteria in fans of composer Franz Liszt. We connect choric invention to the act of social remix, a process whereby one remix inspires participants to invent similar remixes, which contain nuanced, different content and, thus, divergent lines of communication.

We conclude by riffing on the dance in a metaphorical sense and featuring participatory interactions on YouTube that are, at the same time, playful and violent public interactions. This darker side of choric invention cannot be overlooked, as it often results in serious consequences for participants on and offline. Acts of responding, repurposing, and reposting make YouTube's wild archive something that cannot be tamed but can inspire participatory acts of innovation that would otherwise remain hidden. That is, YouTube's archive as a choric space continually folds back on itself by creating complex networks in which participants dwell.


All the practices used to conduct schooling are relative to the apparatus of literacy. In the history of human culture there are but three apparatuses: orality, literacy, and now electracy.

Gregory Ulmer, "What is Electracy?"

Stasis Theory

The practice of uncovering and identifying binary structures is linked to the doctrine of stasis: finding a place on which to stand and generate arguments. Victor Vitanza (1991) tells us that in any and all attempts to control, map, and construct models in the name of language, we will witness language turning "against the models that are constructed in its name" (p. 148). He warns: "Wherever there is a system (totality, unity), there is the trace of the excluded" (1997, p. 4). To read the residue of the endlessly deflected is to affirm the knowledge that stasis theory necessarily excludes and by moving out of and beyond this classical conception, we can include and value that which has previously been excluded.


Roland Barthes's (1981) work with third meanings provides access to this residue, to what has been systematically pushed aside by asking and subsequently answering What is X? He focuses on why some photographs "wound" him, or evoke a corporeal reaction, while others are just "there." Barthes searches his own lexicon to describe that certain co-presence in the photographs that wound him, but his language makes it impossible. Instead, he chooses two Latin terms, studium and punctum. Culturally coded reactions and interests are a part of the studium: predictable, inert responses that do not move, that merely stand still, to arrive at the studium is to arrive at stasis: to understand what has been produced and to share that understanding with common culture.

Though inseperable from studium; punctum breaks through, interrupts, and disrupts the studium. It is a wound, a prick, a mark made by a pointed instrument; the wound comes by way of a detail and its sting cannot be articulated by something that can be defined. The punctum of recognition emerges from and provides access to knowledge residing in the body instigating disruption, disturbance, reenvisioning the question of definition for the electrate apparatus.

The puncta that arise will identify works that are "events," works that evoke a bodily, emotional response and sting one into an "awareness of reality" (Ulmer, 1981, p. 228). "The past moments rescued by way of the punctum are not a spectacle for nostalgia, moments to be defined or mourned, but rather tools for opening the present, celebrated triggers which set in motion future linkages" (Ulmer, 1989, p. 112). If we move the discussion from static images to moving images, the means with which videographers communicate throughout online video and participatory cultures, we not only recognize a sharing of relations, but see and, more importantly, feel the making of meaning.


Chora in video culture aims to provoke, reel us in, and generate response and editing by (multiple) viewers, both in textual and video formats.

"The task will be ‘to build, in place of a single argument, a structure of possibilities'"

Gregory Ulmer, Heuretics, 1994.

An open-ended mode of invention, chora both unsettles us and moves us to respond: It is less concerned with achieving stasis and more interested in creating points of departure from which future inventions will transverse and take place.

"Knowledge" in the chora "must be ‘grasped' because it cannot be conceived and it cannot be perceived."

E.V. Walter, Placeways, 1988.

Grasping in the chora cannot be apprehended by reason. It is neither in the rules of rational thought nor a product of sensory experience, "but something else: a curious, spurious mode of grasping reality" (Walter, 1988, p. 122). Material for invention exists everywhere, so it must be evoked rather than found or uncovered. Chora necessitates "an exceptional mode of perception," because the "illegitimate reasoning" (p. 123) by which the nature of chora must be grasped elicits "a wider experience of clutching or holding that does not stop with the hands but sometimes involves the entire body" (p. 133).

Choragraphy does not offer a set of pre-established procedures; it creates a network in which to feel an invention that is both sparked by a punctum and remembered by the body. Inventing through the chora affirms what the body might "know," instead of simply casting memories and knowledge in the body as emotional feelings that any rational person would dismiss as irrelevant to serious work....choragraphy asks one to be attuned to occurrences that do not fit into a general, hierarchical methodology as well as to make something from such occurrences. One's momentary location is less important than one's continuing movement or line of flight.

In practice, and in the space of the chora, the inventor will experience puncta of recognition, third meaning that "arise out of the particular way memory stores information in ‘emotional sets,' gathering ideas into categories classified not in terms of logical properties but common feelings" (Ulmer, 1994, p. 142). The moods and memories recovered then link elsewhere through an unfolding and rhizomatic network of associations. They become moments, events, of celebration and collaboration within which inventions then "catch" and come into appearance.

YouTube as Chora

According to Henry Jenkins (2007), "YouTube represents a shift away from an era of stickiness (where the goal was to attract and hold spectators on your site, like a roach motel) and towards an era where the highest value is in spreadability" (n.p.). YouTube's archive is not so much a "place" as it is a choral space, folding time and space in and out of the platform. The purposes and meanings of YouTube as a cultural system are also collectively co-created by users. Through their many activities—uploading, viewing, discussing, and collaboration—the YouTube community forms a network of creative practice.

"And the question is how to write as auditors rather than orators."

Cynthia Haynes, "Postconflict Pedagogy: Writing in the Stream of Hearing," 2011.

In the space of the chora, one listens in order to become another listener, never to become, finally, the next master. This practice blurs the distance between speaker and listener so that both remain alongside one another: in an adjacent relationship rather than a dialectical one. It is a threshold or conduit of pure exposure along which bodies experience the emergence of otherwise unknown capacities, and thus, the shaping of new assemblages. On YouTube this concept comes to life through the idea of social remix.


According to Julian Sanchez (2010), this original mash-up is an example of "stage one remix," which involves "individuals using our shared culture as a kind of language to communicate something to an audience" (04:16). Stage one remixing often creates the conditions for proairetic invention and electrate reasoning to occur. What is most pertinent to the question of definition is "stage two remix or social remix," a process whereby one remix inspires interested participants to invent similar remixes, which contain nuanced content and, thus, divergent lines of communication. Each group's social remix both responds to previous remixes and creates proairetic openings for other remixes to be made, while some morph into entirely new situations to add to the burgeoning network. Each video is posted as a response to another Lisztomania (2009) video, and they inherently work with one another: not as a dialogue, but as an invitation for innovation and creativity. According to Sanchez, this "social remix," involving relationships among all of the versions, "isn't just about someone doing something alone in his basement": rather, the practice "becomes an act of social [and participatory creativity]. And it's just not that it yields a different kind of product in the end; it's that, potentially, it changes how we relate to [one another]" (03:04).

The result is that these videos become platforms for "articulating the similarities and differences in the groups' social and physical worlds" (04:32). Participating in this meme requires both a complex investigation into local geographies and cultures, which serves as critique as well as a designing of the performance to expand the network already in existence. The brat-pack Lisztomania meme, with its complex layers of remix and reappropriation, shows how media, that resists definition, can influence not only participation, but world-wide collaboration, interaction, and communication.

The media's influence is not always utopian. The dance careens into metaphors in the very public and sometimes ruthless interactions between producers and participants. These subtle and not so subtle acts of violence can literally ruin lives, construct alternative identities that confront the networked community around which the subject as event emerged.

"Such invention takes place in material and affective situations that in turn create us."

Thomas Rickert, "Toward the Chora: Kristeva, Derrida, and Ulmer on Emplaced Invention," 2007.


While tempting to dwell on the site as a space for contemptible practices, or to lionize the utopian and celebratory potential of participatory cultures, YouTube's architecture ultimately resists such oversimplified categorization. Rather, as a choral space, YouTube facilitates the potential for countless compositional gestures and exposes all facets of a living, breathing, dancing network.


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